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Gallaudet University: Eastman Studio Theatre

Remaining Performancs (tickets available here):

Sunday, July 19 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m.

They say: Memories are malleable, changing shape with our choice of focus. By redefining the meaning of our history, we change our future. Contemporary movement and visuals come together in a new partnership between Motion X Dance DC and Lindsay Benson Garrett.

Joshua’s take: Altered Archives presents a uniquely successful harmony of medium and message, carefully orchestrating live dance with projected video in a way that rarely, if ever, divides the audience’s attention. The piece, presented in four genuinely distinct movements, explores the connection between memory and self, embracing the idea that we might have to rewrite our own backstories to move forward.

OK, yes, I am gleaning some the show’s themes from its press material and program notes. But it speaks well for the clarity of vision behind Altered Archives that I feel like I came up with all of that analysis myself, and think I would have gotten most of it even if I’d seen the show with no context at all. This is a performance that knows what it’s about.

To begin with, many of Lindsay Benson Garrett’s multimedia effects are arresting enough that they could stand as independent visual work; the video is never mere scenery and is consistently executed with technical skill and taste. Combining abstract and concrete images, live-action video with animation, these pictures offer a disorienting range of perceptions, an effect well-suited to the theme of memory.

The physical choreography, created by co-director Stephanie Dorrycott and guest choreographer Elysia Greene and handled by Motion X Dance’s performing artists with great energy, often plays with imitative and reflective movements, as if one dancer is struggling to recall and revise the motions of another. Other times they seem to move like self-operated marionettes, which suggests the often coercive effect memory has on our identity. That these movements evoke the uncanny look that filmed human motions have when played in reverse only strengthens the connections between media.

Nothing here seems like an afterthought; Altered Archives is simply a cohesive performance in which no one element is less essential than any other. Directors Dorrycott and Garrett remember what too many directors forget (and not just at Fringe): you need not strain to be fashionably “immersive” to leave an audience feeling immersed. Compelling theater is always immersive simply by demanding our attention in every moment of performance.

If there’s one aspect of Altered Archives that is a distraction, it’s the text that’s occasionally projected and sometimes read aloud by an unseen voice. These pronouncements are merely prosaic statements about the nature of memory, the kind of thematic conclusions the piece ought to leave to its audience, or at least render in more poetic language. But that’s a minor complaint to levy against a show in which every other detail seems tightly controlled.

See it if: You’d like to take in polished, innovative work in several art forms all at once.

Skip it if: You’re just at Fringe for the narratives.

Image courtesy of Motion X Dance DC and Lindsay Benson Garrett