The overwhelming problem with Wichern/Wolfson's dance/theatre piece, Breath, lies in the subtitle. Although the title and the program notes refer to Dickinson's "inner life of incomparable passion and richness," the piece itself is curiously cold and distant. The choreography was unengaging and limited in range; even the dancers didn't seem to be feeling any life or emotion in their movements. The music, well played by the Sirius String Quartet, is likewise repetitive and chilly. It's unhummable and evokes little of the rhythm of Dickinson's writing. Finally, the 13 characters represented by the five dancers were neither defined nor differentiated; it was impossible to distinguish one from another or determine their relationships to Emily in the course of any given episode.
Breath is divided into three segments of five or six scenes. In the first, "Finding the Path," David Wolfson and Lynn Wichern, as directors, composer, and choreographer, established the conceit of the show: there was a "Dancing Emily" (played by Wichern) and a "Singing Emily," played by Kate Kearney-Patch. The two were always dressed identically in either black or white, although the reasoning behind the changes from one color to another was not clearly defined in the context of the piece. The two Emilys performed separately and in unison. In addition, the other four dancers (according to the program; it was not obvious ) each assumed the role of Emily at various times. Wichern, as the Dancing Emily, was grim and colorless. Kearney-Patch had a lovely soprano voice but was not served well by Wolfson's music. The musical settings for the poems she sang are extremely modern and frequently made her sound shrill. She also moved with great awkwardness, a problem emphasized in a room full of dancers. Her spoken poetry, as well as that by other cast members (Leigh Hansen, Jason Hauser, Courtney Young, and Tom Treadwell) was over-acted and tended toward the sing-song; evidently, cast members were directed to emphasize, rather than speak past, Dickinson's rhyme scheme.
The three segments are punctuated by "interludes"--monologues performed by The Visitor, played by Andrew Sellon. Sellon's performance brought a vitally needed energy and freshness into the piece whenever he appeared, and the monologues--the stories of a modern man in love with Dickinson and his subsequent adventures trying to promote her writing on the Internet-- are clever and funny, though, like the rest of the segments, they are indulgently long.
Overall, Breath fell far short of its intended goals, both in learning about Dickinson and her life and in increased enjoyment and understanding of her work. Neither the "passionate life" nor the "extraordinary language" of Emily Dickinson were conveyed, and the audience was not inspired to seek out her work.
Copyright 1996 Melanie White
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