Terra Incognita - easily the sexiest, most romantic thing I've seen at Fringe this year, may have to go again (phew) - 5 stars
Dancers who are graceful are a joy to watch. Dancers who are also acrobats can dazzle you with feats most of our human bodies aren’t fit or strong enough to attempt. Dancers who are also performers from the neck up, not just the neck down, can capture your attention on a whole other level. Dancers who are all these things at once? Well, they can make you catch your breath for periods of time that are probably not healthy. The dancer/acrobat/performers of UpLift Physical Theatre (presented here by Soma Acrobatic Theatre) can hold an entire audience in that kind of suspension for nearly an hour with just the briefest of chances to breathe. Their Fringe show Terra Incognita is so good I’m going back to see it a second time before they close. I wish I’d seen it sooner so I could see it yet again.
Why? Because the experience of Terra Incognita washes over you the same way the sounds of the surf on their sound effects track does. It requires your almost constant attention because there are eight bodies in motion nearly every moment from the start of the show til its finish. They make things like somersaults look easy. Or try jumping into or out of a somerault. How about a cartwheel? How about a one-handed cartwheel? How about standing on someone’s shoulders? How about that person below them walking around with someone on their shoulders? These dancers are in such control of their bodies that they can use one another as balance to bend and twist and turn and carry and even walk up walls.
But the thing here that puts it all over the edge into another realm of performance is the way these artists engage one another. If they were just rolling around in precise synchronization with one another, sure that’d be captivating. But it’d be about as human as a set of dominoes arranged to collapse in an elaborate display. These performers are fully human and engaged even as they’re in a near constant state of motion. There are periods of time when a single person or pair or trio of the dancers will take focus, and others will be on the sidelines or perhaps right on top of them looking on. It’s the way these dancers watch each other, it’s the attention they pay to each other, that can mesmerize you. No matter where you look on stage, even if a person is standing still, they are actively engaged in what is going on. They aren’t just passively observing. They care, or disdain, or dare, or hope, or long for the other performers in the spotlight. You can see it all over their faces.
And while it’s not exactly GLBT content, Terra Icognita is by no means heteronormative. Some of the most elegant and passionate interchanges take place between Nicholette Routhier and Alyssa Hughlett, clad in light colored fabric, some tight, some flowing. They spend a great deal of time entwined together, or carrying one another on their backs, all in ways that are extremely intimate and tender. Audrey Leclair and Juliana Frick mirror one another’s movements in more playful ways during one exchange, but one of them is always trying to get closer and more comfortable in response to the other attempting to break away. Hannah Gaff mixes it up with everybody in powerful, athletic ways, while Andrea Martinez isn’t shy about using flirtation and sex appeal to spice up the mix. The two men in the ensemble - Jerome Yorke Jr. and Moses Norton - have an embarrassment of riches in terms of female dance partners and they engage each one in different, specific ways. But there are also moments where these two men embrace and support one another that are tender and powerful in their own right.
There isn’t a story here, per se, but the connections between the dancers carry a lot of emotional freight. Your brain might not be able to parse it all, but your heart and your gut certainly can. When they climb over one another in groups like mountains or wash over each other in waves like water or drop from the sky into each others waiting arms - kind of makes you wish you had friends of your own you could hang out with and do incredible things like that.
But since most of us don’t, Terra Incognita is the next best thing. Watch, and be amazed.
Final performance tonight 5:30pm, I’m there.
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended