In Greek mythology, Iphigenia is the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Agamemnon offended Artemis, an ancient Greek deity, and therefore ordered to kill Iphigenia as a sacrifice to allow his ships to sail to Troy. Some versions of the story have Iphigenia sacrificed, but in others she is rescued by Artemis and joins her brother Orestes in Tauris.

Laurel Jenkins and Kevin Williamson © MiShinnah Productions, 2016
Laurel Jenkins and Kevin Williamson
© MiShinnah Productions, 2016

Iphigenia: Book of Change, which premiered at The Electric Lodge in Venice, California, is a multi-genre performance produced by MiShinnah Productions and directed by Elise Kermani. There is dance, theater, film, music and puppetry. It is not a literal story of Iphigenia and Orestes, but it is an intense journey through a series of seemingly unrelated events united by situations of confinement, censorship, fear and death. Throughout all this, however, there is a sense of hope of a better future if the characters involved continue to persevere, seek knowledge and listen to their muses. Program notes written by Ms. Kermani refer to the stories of a relative living in Iran who was a political prisoner, and to Sandra Bland, a African-American woman who recently died while in police custody in Texas.

Upon entering the theater space one discovers a harsh, white and cave-like environment with crinkly curved walls. The exits onstage are difficult to distinguish and it feels somewhat claustrophobic. The set/props for Iphigenia: Book of Change include four unfinished wood items; two simple chairs, a table and a very tall A-frame ladder that are rearranged throughout the evening to form different scenes. One place appeared to be a room of interrogation or torment, and later the two chairs and ladder are arranged to represent a railroad track on which a pursuit takes place. These pieces of furniture are danced on, crawled beneath, used as musical instruments, become places of confinement, used as shields and become implements of death.

Inside this changing world are performers Laurel Jenkins (Sima/Iphigenia) and Kevin Williamson (Hamid/Orestes); both dancers and co-choreographers for this production. The cast also includes two imposing puppets designed and constructed by Luis Tentindo, another co-choreographer. The first puppet is a dark haired woman with the ashen face of an ancient oracle/sage. The second one is a dog that resembles an all-white Pitbull. The puppets come to life with the aide of three always visible puppeteers who guide and instruct both Sima and Iphigenia. The dog interacts with Iphigenia and is then tied to her back, but the animal is later pursued by Hamid. There is one scene in which puppet and human appear to trade personae as the oracle/sage physically manipulates Sima.

Laurel Jenkins and Kevin Williamson © MiShinnah Productions, 2016
Laurel Jenkins and Kevin Williamson
© MiShinnah Productions, 2016
Laurel Jenkins and Kevin Williamson are both very strong performers. The movement is simple but dynamic and the choreography for the humans' interaction with the puppets is moving, intricate and powerful. Tentindo's puppets are brought to life through skillful actions of the three puppeteers/musicians Yulya Dukhovny, Joe Small and Chu-Hsuan Chang. It is clear that great attention was paid to the smallest of detail while working with these sometimes mesmerizing puppets and the wooden furniture/props. This is a great tribute to the director Elise Kermani.

One cannot view the performance of Iphigenia: Book of Change without being totally engaged. It is intelligent, thought provoking and it even hints at the mystical with hidden writings seen only with the aid of a special light. Puppeteers become musicians. An audio speaker, suspended by its connecting wire, is thrown and twirled around, giving audible motion to the sound. Puppets instruct, direct, transform, irritate and soothe the wounded. Film is used to visualize Sima's visions of freedom from her captors and to show the oracle/sage magically reviving the dead dog. In the end we see a "horned doe" spinning through time or perhaps toward her freedom. Iphigenia: Book of Change is a play/dance that should have a long life span in the theater. It would be nice to revisit this production after all involved have had time to grow and mature in their roles.

Special mentions go out to Set Designer Yao Zhang, Cinematographer Alexander Chinnici, Lighting Designer Chu-Hsuan, Costume Designer Maria Garcia, Film Producer Natasha Kermani and Composers Todd Lent, David Watson and Christine Bard.