nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 12, 2010
A program note by Federico Restrepo tells us that In Retrospect "investigates how we construct our personal memory box: how we keep our memories fresh and preserve the things that made us who we are." Restrepo and co-conceiver/creator Denise Greber use a variety of theatrical forms and devices to do this, mostly dance and movement, but also film, puppetry, and mask. For me the show resonated more as an exploration of theatricality, and how it can convey meaning, mood, emotion, and feeling without narrative or throughline. The invention and wit of In Retrospect, along with the sheer joy its performers are able to communicate within it, made this a memorable experience to ponder and treasure; from my perspective, it was all about the sense of wonder that Restrepo and his collaborators inspired in my heart as I watched.
The piece, which is nearly an hour long, is divided into a number of live performance segments, in between which are brief videos that sometimes comment on and sometimes more subtly inform the rest of the show. All of the performance segments are based in dance, gracefully and vigorously performed by Restrepo (who also choreographed), Sara Galassini, and Allison Hiroto. Some of these are reflective: Restrepo dances among a stageful of memories in the opening, for example, and there's a fascinating introspective piece later on in which Galassini and Hiroto go through an almost ritualized examination of the masks we acquire as we grow older.
Many of the vignettes are delightfully playful. Galassini tries to master a giant telephone that seems to have sprung to life, an echo of the way many of us must feel these days with our communication devices. Hiroto appears in a sequence as a dreamer on a pillow, in which the flower garden she's dreaming about morphs, as dreams do, into an underwater adventure involving some playful fish. And Restrepo has a dance in which his partner is a gigantic pair of legs and feet—a tiny babe and its mother, perhaps?
What makes In Retrospect so special is the artistry with which all of its parts have been concocted. Restrepo is also the designer of this piece (puppets, sets, video, lighting) and his work is masterful: the magic of its elements' illusions never frays, and in both concept and realization, the production is never less than awe-inspiring. Elizabeth Swados's music (played live by Sebastian Quiroga and Yukio Tsuji, who also provide additional composition) is similarly thrilling. Greber's costumes complete the stage pictures perfectly. As is La MaMa's hallmark, the collaboration reflects many cultures and theatre styles, and rather than clashing or even feeling mashed-up, they blend into a remarkable hybrid that reminds us how much there is to learn from our peers and colleagues.
Puppeteers Beatrice Davies and Kiku Sakai also contribute mightily to the show's effectiveness, working with full-body puppets in several terrific sequences. Restrepo, Galassini, and Hiroto operate extraordinary marionette manifestations of themselves (dressed in coordinating costumes!) in my favorite section of the show.
The surprises of In Retrospect—and the subtle profundity—urge me not to give too much more away about what happens; this is a show that I think anyone ready to open themselves up to the world of theatrical possibility, of any age, will come away from with some pure gold.