nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
January 8, 2010
Space Panorama may be 21 years old (it was originally commissioned in 1989), but it remains a fresh, quirky piece of dance theater. Using only his upper body (particularly his expressive hands), a blank black tabletop, some wry recorded narration, and music from Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, creator/choreographer Andrew Dawson tells the story of the 1969 Apollo Moon landing, all in half an hour.
It's an impressive achievement, even more so considering Dawson presents the moon landing from multiple perspectives from liftoff to splashdown. He shows the viewpoints of the astronauts, the ground crew back on earth, TV viewers, and finally, the cosmos itself. Dawson constantly shifts the view with unpredictable and effortless aplomb.
Space Panorama begins somberly, with a stone-faced Dawson looking out into the audience. As the opening strands of Shostakovich play, and narrator Gavin Robertson recites an ode to the multiple names of the moon, Dawson makes an inverted crescent with his left hand. This gesture will represent "moon" throughout the piece, but the tone won't always be somber. Just when you think things can't get any more serious, the tone shifts to a quick, wry exposition of the mechanics behind the preparations for liftoff. Dawson impersonates not only the rocket ship and launcher, he lip-synchs (not always in unison) to recordings of President Kennedy and the ground crew, as well as portraying a blithely disinterested, Ralph Kramden-esque truck driver in charge of driving astronauts to the launch site.
Through it all, Dawson captures the wonder and joy of the first moon landing. He never descends to the maudlin or sentimental. There's a sardonic humor underlying the piece throughout, as when the narrator remarks that "a flag was put up for all mankind, with some stars and stripes on it"—a wry comment on the none-too-subtle subtext of establishing American supremacy in the space race.
Space Panorama is a joyous interlude that never gets too caught up its own wonder—it's both beautiful and humorous. It may not be as new or provocative as other pieces presented at Under the Radar, but it is none the less wondrous.