In Dream Dances Dec 8, 2017

by Elissa Favero

Photo: Stefano Altamura


“A film,” Surrealist director Luis Buñuel said in 1953, “is like an involuntary imitation of a dream…[H]ow the darkness that slowly settles over a movie theater is equivalent to the act of closing the eyes. Then, on the screen, as within the human being, the nocturnal voyage into the unconscious begins…[T]ime and space become flexible, shrinking and expanding at will; chronological order and the relative values of time duration no longer correspond to reality, cyclical action can last a few minutes or several centuries; shifts from slow motion to accelerated motion heighten the impact of each.” 

Buñuel, of course, is speaking here about film, but his words leapt to mind last night at On the Boards, as the real bodies of five performers moved before me in the production Dream Dances. Don’t mistake me, there are no projected or moving images in Dream Dances. The performance is also wordless. The show unfolds, instead, as a light story, a sound story, and a story, of course, of still and moving bodies. Looking back today on my notes from the opening last night feels like making sense of a dream-journal. “Liquid repose” and “primordial soup” I wrote to describe the first scene, when lights still shown down on the seated audience. But as the fluid gestures of the dancers repeated and gradually broadened, bringing them to upright, walking positions, the long chords of sound became pulsing beats and the viewers were thrown into darkness. 

If you don’t tell your dreams out loud or put them to paper, if you don’t give language to them immediately, they often slip away. Dreams, and the unconscious mind, are maddeningly elusive. Perhaps you can recover a single feature that shimmers for you, even afterwards, with the light of your own recognition or amazement or horror. Years from now, when I recall Dream Dances, I’m sure my mind will retrieve from my flicker of memory several components from what I described in my notebook as the “florescent nightmare tableau” that comes near the end of the show: the wrapped block that crashes down from on high, leaden and loud; performer Thomas House making a mound of shiny black plastic into a shimmying monster; performer Lavinia Vago blankly, frozenly spraying water from a hose while below her a limp life-raft pools and then overflows with the water; and dancer Ben Harvey trying, with Sisyphean effort and patience, to find a way out, beyond the theater’s matte gray wall. The light dozing of Dream Dances’ beginning had become the engrossing, alarming immersion of deep, transporting slumber. The prostrate bodies of Kate Wallich and Tom Weinberger shifted and reconfigured like a tangle of restless sleepers as this dream-world around them grew and then diminished. 

Time had stretched and then quickened and then slowed again. The lights flashed back on. And there were the dreams and nightmares of the waking world around me once again.  

Dream Dances is at On the Boards through Sunday, December 10. 



Elissa Favero teaches critical and contextual studies at Cornish College of the Arts and writes essays about art, architecture, and landscape. 


On the Boards Ambassadors are cultural and civic leaders who bring new voices and perspectives and share our programs with new communities. 

The Ambassador Writers Corps is a team of experienced writers and artists who develop responsive and critical content around On the Boards performances or write about specific issues in our creative and civic community.