On Saturday evening, I entered a hazy, otherworldly atmosphere as I watched VIA Dance Collaborative‘s The Dream Project: Lullaby in Surrealism at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. The evening-length work, a collaboration between choreographer Adrienne Westwood and twelve dancers, investigated the strange, beautiful, and often unsettling nature of dreams. Westwood even incorporated input from the public based on the results of an online dream survey that she and the dancers created during rehearsals.
Image courtesy of VIA Dance Collaborative
A girl in a burgundy dress was laying on stage – probably dreaming – as the audience entered the theater. When the piece began, several other dancers crawled closely around her while she rolled across the stage, with the sash of her dress unfolding to create a long carpet – perhaps a path. More dancers entered in sharp diagonals or swirling clusters, suggesting a dream’s unevenness. Dimmed lighting and a foggy projection of a dancer’s back enhanced the dream-like world, and as the piece progressed, muffled noise, whispering voices, and more projections by Adam Larsen – including a beautifully soothing image of water rippling on a shore – created an eerie environment. The rhythm and momentum of Lullaby constantly changed according to the trancelike music and sound, by Jim Briggs III, together with the dancers’ movement. A slow, repetitive section of gestures in which the dancers appeared to be washing their hands was mesmerizing but obscure, like one of those random actions in a dream that seems peculiar and out of place. In an earlier segment, a row of dancers each folded a large piece of white paper on the floor and then continued folding it into different shapes as they moved briskly in unison. At various times, the paper served as a hat, book, or a sock over the dancers’ feet. How interesting to observe an ordinary object’s evolving significance and purpose in a dream.
Many sections of Lullaby were mystifying and blurry (and occasionally too lengthy), similar to one’s dreams. But if they made sense to Westwood and the dancers – or at least stemmed from their own dreams – can the audience really question them or utter, “I don’t get it”? The piece ended abruptly with just one dancer on stage, illustrating that sudden moment when a dream concludes and a person wakes but has yet to interpret the dream or reach a sense of clarity. It was unsatisfying, but this is often the case with dreams.
The dancers had clean lines and moved fluidly as a group, but they rarely conveyed emotion, nor did they acknowledge each others’ presence or make eye contact. Perhaps this reflects Westwood and the dancers’ experiences as dreamers. Their disconnectedness – from other individuals or from the ability to feel – might be the result of a dream’s haze and lack of clarity. For all of its mysteriousness and ebb and flow of action, Lullaby in Surrealism felt familiar. As a performance, it captured the dreaming experience in a much more tangible way than possible for a dreamer.