Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fringe Review - Sin Eater - Present State Movement - 5 stars

Tweet review - Sin Eater - OK, my mind is officially blown; the things Tamara Ober does with her body, shadow and light... Damn, 5 stars #mnfringe

"The way through the darkness is to become one of the animals.  Then they can't get you."

There are words in Sin Eater, but Sin Eater itself is almost beyond words.  Like a joke, you fear that in trying to explain it or describe it to someone else you take something away from it, make it less somehow than it truly is.  Words like amazing, mesmerizing, hypnotic, mind-blowing, overwhelming, well, they aren't really helpful, though any of them could easily be applied to Sin Eater.  Choreographer/performer Tamara Ober of Present State Movement has created a compelling dance work in Sin Eater, one that is very easy to submit to, and lose yourself in for an hour.  This is the dance show to see at the Fringe this year.

"My father named me [Grace].  He's a believer."

Ober takes on the role of Grace, a steely young woman called home to her dying father's bedside.  She is told to go into the mountains and bring back a Sin Eater.  The Sin Eater is a shaman who, for a fee, will eat another person's sins, take them upon himself, allowing the other person's soul to rise unfettered to the afterlife.  Of course, the Sin Eater continues to carry all those other sins with them the rest of their life.  What happens when they die?

"It's not my war, but I've carried it with me all my life."

Sin Eater is Grace's journey into the wilderness, and into a darkness just as metaphorical and spiritual as it is literal.  When she comes out on the other end of her journey, and back to her father's bedside, she is a very different person.

"In all that darkness I had no idea what I was fighting, or what I killed."

Tamara Ober is in such complete control of her body that is almost doesn't seem human.  Or perhaps the rest of us humans are just way too careless with the way we swing our bodies around.  Time and again I look a my notes and instead of just jotting down a description of what she did, there are exclamations like, "She can be so still!"  The smallest movement or twitch can convey volumes of information about her state of mind or relation to her surroundings.  When she ripped a strip off a bed sheet, the violence of it in relation to the stillness that came before made an audience member next to me actually gasp.  On the opposite end of the movement spectrum, Ober is just as evocative when crossing the stage in big sweeping movements of her arms and legs and torso.  The way her body moves and contorts itself implies all we need to know about her surroundings - thick underbrush, low branches, tight spaces, treacherous crossings.  Though there is no set, only a bench she turns over in different configurations for different locales, the empty space around her isn't truly empty.  The open air takes on the specifics of the environment Ober indicates with her movement through the space.

"I didn't know my father before the war.  So maybe I didn't know him."

Another key element is the bold use of light, shadow and color in relation to Ober's body.  The lush green of the forest gives way to the soothing blue of the river, where Grace allows herself to rest and revel in the water.  The red of the campfire playing across the planes and chords of muscle in Ober's back seem to create a kind of monster.  An extended sequence using a strobe light, along with percussive music, is powerful and unsettling.  Grace's battle with and surrender to the darkness of the night takes things to still another level before the dawn returns.  Her hair unbound at last and swinging wildly, it eventually obscures her face entirely.  In fact, come morning, Grace's tentative hand movements imply she is perhaps relieved to still have a face under all that hair as it is slowly pulled back into a ponytail once more.

An eclectic selection of music, too, fills the space and envelops the audience as much as the performer.  Sin Eater is an immersive experience on several levels.

"It turns out all you need to do is go home, set down your load, and stop fighting."

The climax of the performance, conveying the vastness of the night sky, includes some of the most unreal shadow work in an evening full of precise and evocative shadow work.  As the conclusion draws near, Ober's contortions made her shadow seem like a completely separate person, perhaps a parent keeping watch over a child.  You almost can't believe your eyes.  How Tamara Ober does it, I don't know.  But what a gift!

And what a gift to audiences Sin Eater is.  I keep telling people, if you can only get to a couple of Fringe shows, Ash Land should be one, and Sin Eater should most definitely be the other.  Sin Eater is the kind of rich, risk-taking, logic-defying work that you rarely get to see the rest of the year.  Take advantage while the Fringe is making it so easy to find.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

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