"Hey Pig," an exploration into the effects of physical and mental torture choreographed by Chris Lu of RhetOracle Dance Company, premiers as part of Frightful Things Saturday night at the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater at Cal State Long Beach.
Cannibalism, evil spirits, torture and the dark have been played out on the silver screen time and time again, with every special effect you might imagine existing in the cinematic world. Sometimes you're genuinely frightened, other times the scene elicits little more than an eye-roll.
But have you ever seen your nightmares so rawly interpreted in the flesh, not on a screen, but on a stage, not with special effects, but with pure movement?
RhetOracle Dance Company, a local artists' collective striving to "bring the television-viewing, counter-culture everyman back into the concert dance setting" wants to scare you out of your skivvies, in a non-traditional manner.
On Saturday, October 24 at 8:00PM and Sunday, October 25 at 5:00PM at the Martha B Knoebel Dance Theater at Cal State Long Beach, RhetOracle will present Frightful Things, their most recent creative dive into bringing something new and accessible to Long Beach.
After performing a macabre Grimm-style recital at Celebrate Dance in Pasadena, a nine-year-old festival that has given over 70 dance companies the stage for over 12,000 enthusiastic attendees, Nate Hodges, RhetOracle's Artistic Director, was inspired to delve into the darker material even further. He was also surprised at how little the horror genre is explored within the dance community.
"Yes, the horrors of humanity are sometimes brought to the stage of dance, but not often the actual subjects seen in horror literature and cinema," said Hodges. "I thought it would be fun, and challenging, to try to bring some of that to the stage, but without doing it in a campy or cheesy-Halloweeny way. Could we actually evoke the same responses in our viewers that horror novelists and directors do in theirs?"
Rhetoracle's choreographers then directed their focus on fear and horror tropes they felt most inspired them, such as torture or the dark, without relying on the gimmick of a Halloween show. In other words, Frightful Things is a marriage of fine art-caliber movement mixed with fear, sure to elicit mixed and candid reactions from its audience.
With six new dancers on board this season, the team has thrived with the new blood and quickly grown to realize its diversity in harmony.
"Katie, one of our new dancers, plays a teenage girl who has moved into a haunted house in one dance, and then plays a Victorian woman buried alive in the very next," said Hodges. "Making those character shifts can be difficult to navigate, but all the dancers are doing phenomenally."
Other difficulties included the introduction of new props to several of the nine pieces, one of which involves having to dance with a coffin. Figuring out how how to hold it, maneuver it and lift it took some time and posed a heavy challenge for the dancers, but not without accomplishment. New technologies, such as a live projection element, were also added to the mix, part of an array of new elements which should only add to the scare.
"We think we are doing some pretty great work," he said. "I know that I feel very inspired and I think we have all bonded over wanting the world to see this show."
Hodges hopes the audience will be taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion, one that spurs them to think about how they would respond to the nine performed horrific situations. He said good art can be both entertaining and intellectual, and he's hoping this weekend's performance will be just that.
"Our lives are a huge story," said Hodges, when asked what the overall message behind Frightful Things could be. "And at times it is a comedy, a romance, a drama, and for many of us, it will become a horror at some point. We cannot escape fear, but, maybe, if we understand it better, take the time to make friends with it, it will take us a little bit less by surprise."
Images courtesy of RhetoOracle Dance Company.
The Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater is located at 6200 East Atherton Street.