A brilliant fanfare cues dazzling lights, illuminating five figures moving fluidly in front of a decadent curtain. The sounds of a typewriter fill the air and the performance truly begins.
Shaping Sound’s “After the Curtain” is a beautiful mix of dance styles, complex relationships and both internal and external struggle. A show within a show, the main storyline is a group working to put on their own production. Those watching, see the intricate inner workings of each character as they work toward achieving their own dreams — a rising star with the lead role just within her grasp, jealous brothers hungry for success and a man fighting his inner darkness after a heart-wrenching tragedy.
“After the Curtain” is the best of both the theater and dance worlds. Using dancer Nick Lazzarini’s words, it was “a silent movie told through dance.” Without dialogue, the audience was left to analyze the plot and story progression through movements, song lyrics and the occasional words typed onto a small screen hanging above the stage — similar to the scrolling fonts that fill the screen in a silent movie. These bits of context introduce a diverse cast with dark secrets, broken-hearted exes, marriages that appear doomed to fail and those that look perfect on the surface.
Travis Wall’s choreography and poignant storytelling not only brings these characters to life, it shows the audience that nothing is ever as it seems. With seductive plot twists and thoughtful movement, we learn that sometimes love does overcome all, there is always more to a person that what they show the world and everybody has a dark side.
In a silent movie, clothing differentiates the good from the bad and illustrates vulnerabilities in ways we often don’t understand. As artistic director, Wall armors his strong female characters in the glamorous fashions of the 1920s. Flashy flapper dresses and gauzy shawls turn sensitive women into confident seductresses while differentiating each woman.
Lily, played by Chantel Aguirre, is the star of the show within “After the Curtain.” She is a fierce, confident and talented woman who may come across as a little arrogant. But her stardom is challenged by up and comer Rose played by Kate Harpootlian. In a less flashy dress, Rose is given the same choreography as Lily in several scenes to show the audience how fame can be fleeting and easily taken by the next beautiful young thing. Their vulnerability and insecurities come into play when the flapper dresses change to bloomers and brassieres. Lily’s frailty bursts into life after the other women’s teasing goes too far. In response, she shouts “stop,” which is one of the only spoken lines in the performance.
The audience sees behind Lily’s aloof facade and those of Rose and Vera (Lindsay Leuschner) as well. However, the vulnerability Wall created with his female characters isn’t the same with the men. Leo (Lazzarini) doesn’t wear a shirt until the end, but his flashy coat tells the audience that he’s putting up a front of false confidence that inspires his jealousy and complicated relationship with his brother, Vincent (Wall). Wall’s costuming creates a deeper understanding of each character and furthers the plot progression in each and every scene, though some characters only change clothes once.
As an English major, I squealed over Wall’s ability to recreate the intrigue and characterization of a good book or movie by combining theatricality and contemporary dance. The performance had everyone in the audience thinking about the possible meanings of each song and movement while waiting at the edge of their seat for what was going to come next without ever guessing how “After the Curtain” would end. Shaping Sound’s performance was gorgeous and many — myself included — are excited to see what they’ll come up with next.