Spend any time on a beach in Puget Sound and the extreme tide and current in this region will show itself immediately. There is crazy moment-to-moment drama in the severe rising and falling of the water height. There is also a completely still, numbing vision of madness past as captured in those long panoramas of high-flung logs and battered boulders that ring the shores.
That mystifying mix of stilled and thrumming energy, blended to perfection and borne along here by human bodies, is what makes Salt Horse’s “Man on the Beach,” the troupe's new evening-length work, so endlessly watchable and timeless. It also gives the work — which doesn’t skimp on artifice and technical effects — an incredibly honest, organic feel.
Choreographed by the visionary three-headed Salt Horse team (dancers Beth Graczyk and Corrie Befort — both chipping in on costume and scenic design — plus composer/musician Angelina Baldoz), “Man on the Beach” unfolds in linked vignettes of single characters and duets that build and transform incrementally until a certain central tide has turned.
Graczyk has talked explicitly about her inspiration for the piece: how on one cold day on a Port Townsend beach, while taking a moment away from a vigil for a dying family member, she came upon a tall man by the water’s edge who was repeatedly gesturing to a huge framed photograph he was carrying. This character, frozen at the beginning of the work, begins and ends the dance, but beyond that I really don’t want to reveal the other initial costume effects or the design shifts or character manifestations that occur as the piece progresses. They carry the meaning and movement of the whole thing and should be seen fresh during the performance.
What I will celebrate here are the energies and patterns of the work. All the humans we meet seem completely submerged at first — consumed by things they hold, or objects that cling to them, or their switches are stuck hard in one position (on or off). Accidental collisions, spectral presences, or unexpected losses have left these people vulnerable and adrift. In contrast, the unrestrained animal characters that appear seem to live both more deeply inside and higher above the fray.
Variations on themes of inward consumption and courageous revelations weave throughout. And always, beneath it all, there is a constant foundation of water action. The pacing of the vignettes has a kind of comfortable, tidal rhythm as we watch each new character enter and leave; some surge onto the stage, some drift in quietly, one clings to a curtain as if lapped by crowning waves, others seem to land as if dropped from the sky. Every character in the piece seems to be discharging energy, even the frozen man, and no one scene lasts a moment too long.
There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation over this concert, and it’s worth it, but I suggest you try to enter the theater as if going to sit on the beach for an hour. Let the effects wash over you, be grateful for the amazing, shifting artifacts of human emotion that cross and re-cross your path, but don’t come looking for any Cecille B. DeMille miracles.
If you go: "Man on the Beach," Feb. 27 and March 5-6, 8 pm, Erickson Theater, 1524 Harvard Ave. Tickets $15, or $12 for students/seniors/military, available through Brown Paper Tickets.
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