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Open: 07/11/12- Close: 07/13/12 Initium/finis
Reviewed for By: Rachel Wohlander

Theatre Reverb's Initium/Finis is a multi-media, sci-fi noir re-structuring of familiar dystopian myths, with a few playful twists. Theatre Reverb founders Kristen Arnesen and Radoslaw Konopka have teamed up with musician Ellery Royston and kutiyattam (ancient sanskrit theater) artist Rajaneesh Chakyar to create a unique theatrical experience. After being awarded the title of “Most Innovative Production” at the FRIGID New York Festival in March, Initium/Finis is back as part of HERE's curated summer sublet series. It is the first chapter of a larger piece to be presented in New York and India in 2013.

The production pays homage to the 1927 silent film Metropolis and Phillip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, that inspired the 1982 film Bladerunner. It incorporates traditional Indian dance and mythology, offering a compelling comparison to speculative fiction cult classics. There is also some fantastic burlesque.

The company plays skillfully with genre conventions using effects of lighting, live sound and projections to transport the audience to a futuristic mega-city. The premise is set through recorded narrations and projected found images. The city Metropolis has conquered all other cities, humans are mostly just humanoid, under constant surveillance and genetically engineered to degenerate by age 33.

Kristin Arnesen delivers a commanding performance, first appearing in traditional Indian garb to chant a cosmology myth in sanskrit. She then doubles up as Alice and Sylvia, twin models of the variant humanoid whose discontent leads them to join opposing dissident factions, with varying methods of retribution and justice. As Arnesen performs and dances, her definition of movement is keen. Especially her eyebrows and pupils are imbued with their own district presence, and her piercing gaze seems to keep the audience riveted.

The funniest parts of the show spring from cheeky moments of audience interaction, further showcasing Arnesen's authority and resourcefulness on stage. Alice and Sylvia's respective performance numbers are delightful peaks of vivacity in an otherwise deliberately monotone and stoic landscape. (I don't want to give too much away, but opportunities for participation may involve sushi, and skin.) Other highlights include the well-placed utilization of live video to mirror the performer, invoking the Big Brother-esque surveillance. It is refreshing to see the use of media justified by the narrative.

Ellery Royston's live sound creates a lush environment that scores the projected visuals. Her eerie keyboard melodies and percussive accents offer a through-line to incorporate the segmented vignettes that alternate though sequences of projected text and images and live performance. The lighting by Tuce Yasak and Edmond Deraedt is fantastic as is the choreography by Jessy Smith and Arnesen and media design by Kristin Arnesen and Radoslaw Konopka.

Royston's and Konopka's presence on stage as musician and media manipulator respectively are loosely explained by a plot device that makes them the appointed Watchers of Sylvia and Alice. Since Alice and Sylvia are known to be unpredictable models, they require strict methods of control, though in both cases, the Watchers turn from spy to sympathizer. Since the performance ended in a “To be continued...” I am eager to see how their roles continue to weave into the next chapter.

The conversation upon leaving the theater mostly orbited the question of the decision to pair familiar sci-fi motifs with ancient Indian mythology and dance. It is a fascinating concept to ponder, if not fully integrated within the piece. The invocation of myth, both ancient and modern, seems to highlight the dualistic nature of god and man and the constant cycles of creation and destruction. Ultimately, Theatre Reverb has created a fine example of the potential for interaction between media and performance. Their unique spin on the paranoid post-apocalypse bridges ancient and modern mythology and calls on audiences to question the composition of human nature. The best part is how they deal with dark, dystopian dilemmas with wit and playfulness. Their final performance is tonight, I suggest you don't miss it!

Here Arts Center : 145 Avenue of the Americas