Just two-years old and already the Helianthus (Latin for sunflower) Dance Theatre is shining on stages across the European continent. Tailoring their show to each town in which they perform, they promise something special and unique at their show in October Palace on 21 and 22 February.
As the name suggests, The Fantastic Shadows are all about taking stories in whole or in part and recreating them using shadows. Featuring elements of action performance, musical theatre, contemporary dance, circus art, as well as a tremendous amount of “trash-style”, artistic directors Mia Larrson and Manuel Wagner say a big part of the show is the actual creative process. They do a lot of research online for monuments, famous personalities, and various cultural symbols. And then there is the musical aspect, which is “very important for the show. Mostly the music gives us the main inspiration. So we search for well-known music and movie scenes that are creatable in shadow. Some movie scenes are easy to transform into shadows, and some are impossible,” they say.
Tailoring aspects of their show, including words and letters, depending on where they happen to be performing, here in Kyiv the dance theatre have included an excerpt from the well-known Soviet cartoon Masha & the Bear. Well-versed in various aspects of cultural icons across the continent, a large portion of their calendar year must be spent in rehearsal. Not so according to the directors: “Because seven of the dancers in the ensemble were already taking part in The Fantastic Shadows, most of the(m) had the know-how of shadow dancing already, (so) a rehearsal phase of three weeks (was possible) this year.”
The fact that these performers have danced together previously plays a significant role in their ability to convincingly perform on stage, a reality Larrson and Wagner say plays in their favour: “Most of us have known each other from ballet school, which we have been doing from the age of 10. Because we shared this important phase of growing up together, the connection within the group is strong, and that’s also visible on stage.”
The Philosophy Of Shadow
The use of shapes, shadows, lights and objects in The Fantastic Shadows are all in accordance with elements in German Expressionism, and though Larrson and Wagner say the group is influenced by Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and Slava (Polunin – a Russian performance artist and clown), all of whom were a driving force in the Expressionist movement in the early 20th century, they say their performance is less self-reflexive: “Our show discusses the interplay between the modern human being and his struggle with the profit-oriented and egocentric, materialistic worldview. Technical innovations like the smart phone play an important role in the performance. The human being, a body trapped in a world of concrete and electronic devices, becomes a slave to technical advancement.”
Though the two argue The Fantastic Shadows have “no concrete philosophical thread”, if they had to choose one artistic movement their performance represents it would be postmodernism. “Everything nowadays has an essence of postmodernism. In our case it is the technical possibility of a beamer that projects light on a screen. In this light, new shadow pictures are possible. They wouldn’t be possible (otherwise). Insofar it is postmodern.”
Though the two are reluctant to commit to a philosophical theme, Larrson and Wagner do admit that there is a psychological aspect to their performance: “Shadows can be seen as the unconscious part of humans. The dream-like. The unknown. Shadows of humans are their reflections, that is why people are afraid of them. They fear the dark side of themselves.”
Of course, you could just enjoy The Fantastic Shadows for what it is – a fabulous performance of dance, music, light, video projection, and optical illusion. Should you choose to take in either of their two shows next week, which will see performers turn into horses, camels, frogs, Transformers and the Statue of Liberty within the blink of an eye, the directors hope you sit back, relax, and after the show “try not to get stuck in everyday work. Try to see the world creatively, with the eyes of a child”.
The Fantastic Shadows
21–22 February at 19.00
Tickets: 100 –1,000hrv
October Palace (Instytutska 1)
by Olga German and Lana Nicole