Every immigrant's story begins with a journey. Some escape from harsh regimes; some leave for education or employment opportunities; others simply seek the promise of a new life in a new land.
Silvana Cardell's Supper, People on the Move pays homage to these stories in a harrowing, captivating dance-theater piece. Filled with symbolism and metaphor, it forcefully conveys the emotional power of the psychological and physical perils that can plague an immigrant's passage.
Supper, performed through last weekend at Crane Arts' Icebox space, opens on six performers seated at set of long folding tables, their hands and arms linked, then broken apart in waves, a series of slow gestures that embody the longing of farewell.
An intense disquiet hovers over the group, a fitting prologue to the intensity that explodes moments later when the space goes dark and the performers rearrange the tables into the back door of a truck or cattle car. Conrad Bender's lighting blinds outward each time a pair pull the doors apart, a third member of the cast escaping to chants of "go, go, GO!" Parcels and luggage burst through afterward, leaving only moments for these scrambling immigrants to grab them or leave them behind.
The dancers reconfigure these tables throughout the evening to create a vast, often perilous terrain for the journey: mountain ranges and detention cells, bridges and caverns. Here, Bender's lighting design turns the sterile Icebox space into a dense geography that the dancers traverse in an impressively physical fashion.
Bethany Formica nimbly crosses a series of moving tables, each upended in a sequence. She crawls across the other dancers' hands, her own hands and feet moving atop outstretched arms as they walk her aloft on the walls behind the audience. William Robinson adds an equally striking gymnastic-driven performance in solo turns, executing a handstand onto a table; catching a soccer ball into a back bend; or performing an inverted arabesque, holding himself on one hand with a leg bent at the knee while another dancer turns him in a circle.
The two lend a sense of excitement and peril that's balanced by the theatrical symbolism of Cardell's piece. Dancers deposit mounds of soil on pieces of paper, then fold them up as if concealing their origins inside official documents. Adrian Plascencia gropes after a visa application, trying to hold it aloft like a prize before grasping at it like a child chasing dandelion fluff through the breeze.
Throughout, Nick Zammuto's speeding percussion and synthesizer-driven music enhances the sensation of frantic, imperative movement and impelling danger. The production didn't need the obvious device of making audience members pass a "border checkpoint" to get into the space to see this otherwise engaging, theatrical journey.
It's a journey that, worth taking once at Crane Arts, is worth repeating - and restaging - again.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to fix the name of one of the dancers. It was Adrian Plascencia with the visa application, not Miles Yeung.