Cast No Shadow
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
November 8, 2007
Cast No Shadow is a multimedia evening of integrated film and dance performance by filmmaker Isaac Julien and choreographer Russell Maliphant. The evening is divided up into three parts. The first, "True North," is a montage of filmed images of the Arctic combined with live dance from Maliphant's troupe. The second piece of the evening is "Fantome Afrique," which is a film about the vibrant life in Burkina Faso's capital city of Ouagadougou, featuring dancer Stephen Galloway. The third piece is "Small Boats," which presents filmed images of boats and beaches, with which members of Maliphant's troupe interact through dance.
The essential problem with Cast No Shadow is not one of talent or skill. On the contrary, everyone involved with the production seems to have tremendous amounts of both, as well as the resources and experience to truly put these gifts to work. The essential problem of Cast No Shadow is more fundamental than that: it is a problem of purpose. Though there are many interesting visuals and striking moments, the show itself does not feel cohesive. It feels like a mashup of ideas, styles, and aesthetics; more an interesting workshop piece than a performance suited for an audience.
The first piece, "True North," features a film that was made by Julien before he began work on Cast No Shadow. Maliphant then went in and added choreography to this film to create this piece. This disconnect is apparent in the piece onstage—the film overwhelms the live dance performance, and the dancers feel separate and unnecessary. Instead of integration, the artists seem to be taking turns—film, dance, film. This leaves the piece feeling disjointed.
The second piece, "Fantome Afrique," is just a film. There is no live aspect to it and as far as I can tell, Maliphant had nothing to do with it. The film does feature dancer Stephen Galloway who choreographed his own dance for the film. While the film presents some interesting visuals, and striking landscapes, it has no connection to the piece that came before, the piece that comes after, or the concept of the evening, which is the collaboration between Maliphant and Julien.
The third piece, "Small Boats," is the least polished of the evening. While the first piece feels disjointed, it has a focal point: the Arctic. The second piece, though lacking any connection to the evening, is about life in the capital of Burkina Faso. What the third piece is about is anyone's guess. It features images of boats and beaches projected onto an IMAX-sized screen, which the dancers appear behind. There is a similar sense of taking turns between the artists in this piece, as with True North, though the fact that the dancers are behind the screen limits them more severely. As to the piece's focus, it is unclear and, as a result, the images it presents are less striking.
What must be noted, however, is the contribution of the dancers. The members of the Russell Maliphant Dance Company are all expertly trained and talented dancers who move with an absurd amount of ease in even the most complicated of movements. Though Maliphant's graceful and elegant choreography can sometimes feel redundant and clashing with the film it is juxtaposed against, the dancers do an excellent job of performing it.
The experience of Cast No Shadow is summed up best by a moment that happens in last piece, "Small Boats." In it, three rope ladders are slowly lowered onto the stage, and dancers begin to climb them. As a member of the audience, I found this exciting. "That's an interesting choice," I thought. "Why would they choose that? What are they going to do with it?" In the end, they end up doing very little with the rope ladders. This is the case with most of the interesting aesthetic choices throughout the evening—interesting ideas that are never explored fully and never related to the other parts of the evening. It is for this reason that Cast No Shadow is a very dissatisfying evening of theatre.