Shadows of the right

Shadowland (Pilobolus)

QPAC, The Playhouse

August 23 – 28

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“Shadowland” is an incredibly clever combination of acrobatics, dance and shadow theatre that sees a cast of nine transform into a group of many mythical beings and monsters as its Pilobolus dancers stack and reshape their bodies to create innovative shadow shapes. And the result is simply magical, sure to see audience members with mouths agape and smiles aspread in equal measure.

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Its story is a surreal one, telling of a nameless female adolescent who, longing to escape her reality is beckoned into her dreams and beyond her bedroom wall into discovery of the shadowland. As she is transformed into a dog, strange creatures appear, sometimes as threat. This takes audiences through both uncomfortable and comic segments. There are quieter moments of simplicity too, such as when, having been poured into her nightclothes, the protagonist is transported through scenes and dreams afloat across and in lift from the male dancers.

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Technically, it’s impressive, particularly in its plays with perspective and employment of a range of shadow shapes using just the ensemble’s bodies behind its series of various sized screens. With hints of Brechtian stagecraft in juxtaposition to the illusions being created on the screens, racks of props and costumes are placed around the stage. Although this suspends belief as to how some shapes are created, it ultimately enhances the show’s appeal through enabling audiences to fully appreciate the wonder of what they are experiencing.

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This is a spectacular example of ensemble work in creation of the fantastical (but not always fantastic) story. While parts of the narrative do not seem entirely appropriate for its aimed family audience and its story’s circus interlude appears more random than eclectic (despite some impressive acrobatics), ultimately “Shadowland” is all about its amazing human construction, layered by a spot-on soundtrack. This is no better illustrated than in the show’s exciting encore, which sees revisit of the work’s most impressive shadow creations, appropriately set to ‘Joy’ (Part 1) by David Poe, followed by representation of iconic New York and Australian images, including localised choices, in this case referencing Lone Pine and Surfers Paradise.

“Shadowland” is a slick show that delivers what it promises and so much more to the child within the adult.  At 80 minutes duration, it provides perfect duration of it visual delights and charm, best just enjoyed without overthought around its potentially passé and problematic narrative.

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