Thursday, January 29, 2015

PuSh 2015: Dark Matter

Kate McIntosh is my kind of performer: deeply curious about the world and endlessly inventive on stage. Indeed, it is the very question of how the theatre might help answer some of the deeper mysteries of the universe that forms the core of her show Dark Matter, which opened at SFU Woodward's Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre last night as part of this year's PuSh Festival. A fusion of theoretical physics and practical dramaturgy, the show proves that science has more in common with performance than we might at first think. The big bang, like a small black box production, is an event situated in time and space that requires a quantum leap of the imagination.

Thus, McIntosh and her two fellow performers, the alternately deadpan and vaudevillian Thomas Kasebacher and Bruno Roubicek, mostly marshal a few simple props to give material dimension to what otherwise remains immaterial in our daily lives. Ping pong balls bouncing across the stage are atoms and black balloons the invisible energy that surrounds them. An empty paper bag opened out to the audience makes darkness visible and a simple wooden plank becomes a portal to a parallel universe. On a portable lab table time is poured into a glass like water and later crushed with a brick. A lasso of rope sends McIntosh ricocheting across the stage like electrons in a superconductor and moistened fingers on the rims of glasses sends sound singing out into curved space. By the end of the show, the stage is littered with the detritus of the performers' experiments. (As with White Cabin, which played the Festival a few years back, I wouldn't want to strike this set.)

In between these visual set pieces, McIntosh poses a series of questions to the audience (the text was written by McIntosh in collaboration with the great Tim Etchells). Most of these have to do with the time-space continuum and the myriad alternate scenarios that might be going on without us as we sit in the theatre. How to rip a hole in the universe so that we might catch of glimpse of what we're possibly missing? In the work's closing tableau McIntosh suggests a method. First she sets down on stage three metronomes ticking at different speeds, amplifying their sound with microphones; then she lifts the upstage blackout curtain to reveal a sliver of bright orange light, like the halo of the sun during an eclipse. Grabbing a twinkling star from the curtain she then stills in turn each metronome as the backstage illumination that has leaked through is gradually extinguished. If our existence is mostly made up of a sequence of moments that we cannot see, then I am grateful to performers like McIntosh for hazarding a guess as to how we might nevertheless still experience them.


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