Shakespeare meets the South Pacific in Open Dance Project’s ‘All Demons Are Here’

A scene from Open Dance Project’s ‘All the Devils Are Here: A Tempest in the Galapagos’

Photo: Open Dance Project

The Galapagos Islands have made temporary home to Houston’s Midtown Arts and Theater Center, but it’s not quite the intrepid wildlife haven one might imagine.

This weekend, the Open Dance Project will explore haunting tales from the history of Floreana Island in the long-awaited premiere of ‘All Demons Are Here: A Storm in the Galapagos’. The hour-long immersive dance theater production, co-presented by DiverseWorks and featuring live music by Kirk Suddreath, will delve deep into the themes of power, sexuality and climate change by layering various narratives of a unsolved murder in the archipelago in 1929 – detailed in the 2013 documentary “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” – with a postcolonial reading of “The Tempest” by Shakespeare.

“We needed something mythical and magical for our purposes to disrupt any potential thought that what we were doing was not fiction,” said Open Dance Project founding artistic director Annie Arnoult . “We use historical events as a lens through which we examine contemporary social and political issues, and in order to do that, we needed the freedom to play with history.”

The show opens with physician Friedrich Ritter and his mistress Dore Strauch, both of whom left their husbands in Germany to escape modern civilization and seek independence. Nicknamed the island’s “Adam and Eve”, they were soon followed by the Wittmer family, along with a self-proclaimed baroness and her two lovers, and moral disputes ensued.

This mystery of truth is stranger than fiction was brought to Arnoult’s attention by set designer Ryan McGettigan, and almost immediately she came up with the idea of ​​combining perspectives in the source material – books, journals and letters written by several of the aforementioned persons. personalities – with those of four characters in “The Tempest”.

Using an ensemble-designed approach, Arnoult provided the choreographic direction, developing a dozen phrases on her own by absorbing the research and allowing her body to respond to them. The 11 artists in the company then began to learn and dissect the individual sections, refining their quality of movement, before restructuring them in such a way as to tell a coherent story with Arnoult’s guidance and direction.

From the life of Woody Guthrie in “‘Bout a Stranger” to the work of the forgotten cabaret artist Valeska Gert in “Dada Gert” to what she describes as “this island of unsuitable toys”, Arnoult is above all a storyteller. , who is fascinated by the underdogs. To truly pay tribute to the richness of their struggles, she invites their environments into hers through the integration of multimedia.

“The feeling of time and place being so deeply connected to a human being intrigued me,” she said. “As dancers we embody emotion and relationship, physical pain and physical power. Those things that we can tell so well without the help of other disciplines, but when we start talking about historical context, geographic context, social and political context, we need the help of storytelling materials that can give more specific details. “

In this weekend’s production, much of the source material will be on display through oral narration, screenings and set design, which includes a ceiling made of plastic bottles. Having designed such complex spaces, Arnoult typically welcomes members of the audience inside to feel the palpable energy of a performance, rather than observing it from afar.

The livestream format presents a challenge in achieving that same level of privacy, but its solution came from a collaboration with videographer Ben Doyle, who will serve as the audience’s eye. With his camera mounted on a gimbal, he will walk among the performers, simulating the immersive experience for viewers at home.

What is most striking, and what Arnoult loves most about this show, is that the crises it contains resonate so strongly with the complexities of the present.

“Deep down we’re human beings, and we’re broken, we’re screwed up and we need each other,” she said. “We have to figure out how to be intimate with each other, how to admit the need, how to admit a weakness and how to ask for help and give it when asked. Otherwise, we will die on the island. It’s as simple as that.

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.

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