By:Michael Del Vecchio
We need tension in our lives. Without tension, nothing demands us to improve. The most primal way we feel tension is through fear. If we understand what scares us, we can face it, overcome it, and grow. NEAR&FAR Projects wrestled with fear, and from that, pulled out its first full-length show, Deimos X Phobos.
The show – inspired by a lingering, almost year-old nightmare – as one of Alex Flack’s nightmares. Alex developed his nightmare into a concept and took it to Tavia Christina and Rachel Facchini - seniors at Ryerson University - of Near&Far Projects. The partnership saw Alex managing the tangible details like budgeting, scheduling, and artistic overview throughout the production, while Tavia and Rachel arranged the choreography and the performers. All these elements came together as Alex’s thesis project at Ryerson.
Speakers pumped ambient-electronic sounds paired with primal, rhythmic percussion through the space. The audience sat at the front of the space and faced the back wall, which was made of red brick. Each of the two side walls had a row of waist-high spotlights mounted on them, which faced the centre of the room. Throughout the show, these spotlights turned on and off, manipulating and spreading the performers’ shadows across the walls. This created depth because the shadows divide the viewer’s focus. While it never became distracting, it does shake up the focus between the body and its shadow – which is a clever way to recreate the disorientation of a nightmare.
The performers crawled on their hands and feet to enter the space, and opened with strong, modern floorwork. With this, the performers were able to create claustrophobia – even in such a large room – because they emphasized the negative space by staying stuck to the floor.
Throughout the show, dancers utilized flashlights to create stark lighting on themselves and each other in the darkness. When they flashed those lights towards a dancer near the front of the space, illuminating the faces in the audience to lamp-shade the fear of being watched. It was the best way to silently break the fourth wall.
A chunk of the choreography had one of the performers dancing near the corner of the brick wall, away from the main cluster. After some time, while she was still stuck there, a duo moved toward the audience, and the remaining performers piled up in the remaining back corner. This triangle of points, paired with the precise timing and synchronization of the performers despite the distance, created depth and scale. This formation directly countered their claustrophobic cluster during the opening.
The red-light sections were contrasted with fluid, graceful motions during sections when the houselights went up. Those sections featured more solo work, and at one point only one performer was left in the space to dance. Erratic, spastic movements during the red-sections created tension, and by switching to the fluid, graceful movements during the brighter sections, the performers released that tension. The repetition created thematic rhythm.
Approaching the end, the troupe lied on the floor and every light was snuffed. In this new darkness, a video was projected, splattered on to the rough, red brick wall, featuring the performers with elaborate costuming and props, in stark contrast to the physical minimalism of the main show. During talkback after the show, Christina explained that the video was a flashback that showed the characters’ progressions from the past to the point of the show. The video was an efficient and artistic way to show the passing of time. In a practical sense, it allowed the performance to include an intricate scene with props, while allowing the performers resume the routine immediately after the video ended.
Most of the movement in the choreography began in the performers’ upper bodies, which allowed their feet to stay on the floor, reinforcing the feeling of being trapped. Dim, red light and repeated floor formations drove home the theme of helplessness. And when legs led movement instead, it shook up the established pattern and strengthened the choreography.
The strongest moment was when the troupe hoisted up a performer who spent the red-light room sections sitting on the ground, prying her foot away from the floor. Standing together in a circle, the other performers threw her into the air, allowing her to escape the ground with strong energy. It was the emotional and physical pay-off for a character that was trapped to the floor for what felt like a lifetime.
The video portion of the show was well done, even if it broke up the momentum of the performance. There were powerful moments throughout the production, but the ending was not as strong as the beginning. Maybe this is because they had eight performers working together, exploring different personal fears, and could have ended up straying away from the original vision. It’s one of the difficulties of balancing dreams with reality. When the house lights turned up for the last time, it was an unexpected ending.
Deimos X Phobos showed how NEAR&FAR Projects can combine emotion, education, and skill to bring a story to life. The performers’ movements were powerful, sharp and confident, but above all, relatable. Strong choreography and design brought physicality and weight to ideas and concepts that most of us only encounter in our dreams. With Deimos X Phobos over, NEAR&FAR Projects said its next performance will tackle something completely different. Whichever path they take, it’ll be something to keep your eyes on.
Costume Designer: Andrew Nasturzio Lighting Designer: Emilie Trimbee Music Designer: Diego Varela & Oshan Starreveld Performers: Shaina Gibson, Brianna Clarke Marrin Jessome, Jamie Fascinato, Hannah Robertson, Nathan Dey, Gregory Eadie
Additional information provided by: Alex Flack, Tavia Christina and Rachel Facchini
Follow NEAR&FAR Projects here.