nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
August 15, 2007
Ancestral Voices is an intensely earnest exploration of Ukrainian folklore, music, and culture through a series of short choreographed dance-theatre vignettes. As a whole, Ancestral Voices is refreshingly sincere, if a little bland.
Ancestral Voices is dance-theatre and—truth be told—is probably more dance than theatre. As such, though it has narrative elements, Ancestral Voices is primarily a collection of explorations of music and poetry through dance. It is all tied together by recurring themes, one being the elements—earth, fire, wind, and water—and the other being two sisters—one poor, the other rich. The first half of the piece explores the world of the poor sister; the second half explores the world of the rich sister.
At the outset, Ancestral Voices hits a very reflective and reverent tone. The character of the Narrator enters, singing a traditional Ukrainian song, and then proceeds to invoke the four elements. Following this, the four dancers dart onto the stage, one by one, each one embodying a specific element. The effect brings us into the world of the piece immediately. We are suddenly inside a poetic world of grace and reverence.
It is therefore a shame that the piece never really moves beyond the feeling and tone of the opening moment. For the first few pieces, the style and shape of the piece holds together—but, after a while, the pieces tend to blend together. The choreography, the music, and even the delivery of the lines within the poems seem static. Perhaps this may be the intention of the creators of Ancestral Voices—to explore the music and text through a sort of ritualistic, meditative dance that is more of a reverie than a journey. Even so, I found it difficult, at times, to be fully engaged as an audience member.
That's not to say that the piece doesn't have engaging moments, or that the performers are not doing fine work. To the contrary, the entire ensemble is totally committed to the style of the piece, and all the choreography is excellently executed, and extremely polished. Of particular note are the pieces choreographed by Mark Tomasic—particularly his solo piece—each of which is visually striking within the static style of the work as a whole.
Ancestral Voices is a worth a look—it's a polished, professional dance-theatre piece exploring a culture and tradition most likely fairly unfamiliar to most festival attendees. If you're up for trying something a little different this FringeNYC season, give Ancestral Voices a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.