At Jacob's Pillow: LEO Dance seems to defy gravity
BECKET -- Ah, illusion, who can resist it? Certainly not Tobias Wegner.
Wegner was very much aware of Fred Astaire's wondrous feats of extended dancing -- up the walls and on the ceiling -- in the landmark 1951 film, "Royal Wedding." He is said to have studied Astaire's movements carefully while working as a trained acrobat with Circle of Eleven, the Berlin-based troupe.
But Wegner's need to follow his human fly instincts reaches back to his original training in contemporary circus arts, when after trampoline class, he and fellow students recall attempting to run up the walls -- while exploring a reasonable theory that he could accomplish the task working with a camera and rotating it to manifest the illusions swirling in his imagination.
In LEO, Wegner's one-man show-with-help at Jacob's Pillow's Doris Duke Theatre through Sunday we get a taste of Wegner's germ of an idea developed as a theatrical project employing his skills in circus techniques, mime, comedy and a little bit of dance, in a project that he and stage director Daniel Brière developed over two years of toil, doubtlessly with a lot of trial and error.
We first meet Wegner as part of a split-stage set - he is sitting on the floor, legs forward in a small area with four walls, just about the size of some New York hotel rooms to which we have become adjusted in casual visits to the city.
To our left is a video screen with essentially the same information, except that the floor in the live version has become one of the walls, painted bright crimson so that we do not mistake it for any other surface in either place. And accordingly, what passes for a wall in the live-action scene is not a floor.
As portrayed by Wegner, LEO offers us Everyman sequestered in his life pattern seeking to expand it, or perhaps break out of it, with only the trusty old vaudevillian suitcase in hand for reassurance and a nearly inexhaustible supply of music, ranging from snatches of insistent African drums, phrases from Ravi Shakar, Frank Sinatra, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, all to get him revved up in perhaps different directions.
Wegner owes much of his illusory persuasion to his video designer Heiko Kalmbach, who arranges some nice shadow motions of body movement on the video as he seems to mount the wall. Later in the proceedings, through the skill of his animator, Iingo Panke, LEO manages to nest in his cozy spot, seizing a piece of chalk to create a nicely formed chair, cocktail table with two elegant drinks replete with napkins sketched on the wall, and even a faithful relaxed cat at the foot of the table, as Sinatra delivers a passionate "I've Got the World on a String."
Yet clearly his dreams seem too limited to afford a sketched companion to share this compact life, as the fleet acrobat in him crawls up the wall in real life a couple of times, but failing, or refusing, to go over the top, the plaintive strains of the allegretto from Beethoven's Eighth Symphony serve to forecast this now unlikely outcome.
The fishbowl sketched on a high perch overhead suddenly overturns, streaming endless water, and LEO discovers himself in a fresh aquatic adventure, with the live-action experience appearing as real to him as the projected one.
One caveat: Through our 24/7 conditioning, we humans have a propensity to stare at screens. Resist it. Give both sides of the stage equal attention. This practice also will tend to soften the sometimes annoyingly repetitious movements made by Wegner in his 70-minute wordless presentation, without intermission.
LEO. Created and performed by Tobias Wegner.
Through Sunday, Eve.:
Tonight 8:15. Mats.: Today, Sun. 2:15.
Jacob’s Pillow, Doris Duke Theatre,
358 George Carter Road, Becket.
Tickets: $38-$22; youth tickets $10. (413) 243-0745; jacobspillow.org.
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