From its very opening moments, Amidst, a production of Pavel Zustiak’s company Palissimo presented as part of Performance Space 122’s COIL 2013 festival, packs a powerfully evocative punch. Dense with meaning, atmosphere, and sense of anticipation – much as the stripped-down, smoke-filled theatre where the audience is allowed to walk around freely guided both by curiosity and the three protagonists’ migratory patterns – the work’s open structure and presentation burrows its way through my imagination and works its magic for the duration of this evening’s presentation.

Julieta Cervantes
Julieta Cervantes

From the moment in which the piece formally begins with a series of images projected on two small semi-transparent screens, juxtaposing images of people with images of places, it appears that memories are being conjured up here, making the air as thick as the smoke that surrounds me and other visitors. As spectators, we must be either silent witnesses to an act of exorcism in a house of the spirits, or we were somehow allowed to penetrate someone’s mind, and are able – at least for this hour – to vicariously navigate its most intimate parts.

As a matter of fact, navigation may very well be the operative word for this work, for the audience and the performers alike. Soon after I first encounter the triad of protagonists (two men and a women) who seem to seamlessly morph into a series of pictographic tableaux suggestive of a living flipbook, they begin to take turns directing the ebb and flow of the audience on a journey through the space. As protagonists in this dream world, the dancers (Nicholas Bruder and Lindsey Dietz Marchand, joined by the choreographer himself) accomplish this task effortlessly, as if they were indeed spectral characters that are completely unaware of our existence. There is something almost holographic about their presence, which is the same quality that could be ascribed to the moving images that are projected on several curtain-like surfaces on the outskirts of the performance area throughout the show – often resembling old photographs that apparently age and deteriorate in front of our eyes.

The performers’ movement, much like the projected images and the sculptural lighting, seem to penetrate the space and slice their way through it, while a live band augments the mood with sounds that range from mournful and melancholy to intense to hard-rock, paving distinct emotional terrains for successive movement of the piece. There is a sensation of dimensional shifts occurring throughout, whether it is going backwards and forwards in time, traversing long distances – perhaps continents – and returning to the point of departure. One highly effective use of video design, for instance, involves an overhead projection that traces paths, arrows and migratory patterns on the stage floor. It is as if an invisible hand were drawing out a birds’ eye view of someone’s destiny, mapping out what came before and what is to come in the future, before zooming us back in to one unforgettable moment or other within one of those memory lanes.

Shortly before Amidst winds down to its final tableau, which takes us back roughly to the image with which it started, there is a quiet interlude during which the house lights briefly come up, and three protagonists simply walk through the space and gently observe the multitude of spectators that surround them, as if they suddenly became aware of our presence. In all its simplicity, it is one of this production’s most striking moments – as if the dreamers were straddling the edge of both their world and ours for the very first time.

The entire production is very much a whirlwind, and the bravura of the dancers, their quicksilver movement quality, along with the impressively accomplished design elements adds up to a richly satisfying experience.