At the intersection of performance, art and performance art dwells ætherplough, the multidisciplinary company whose edgy works push the boundaries of devised theater. For this band of artists, those frontiers are most often situated light years beyond the realm of traditional theater offerings. Their latest creation, [SPACE]; or, the gods are dangerous, is no exception as it takes us on an interstellar journey in search of the meaning of meaning.
Planning post-rehearsal meals for the troupe’s early works probably involved nothing more complicated than a how-hungry-are-you decision between ordering a large instead of a medium pizza, but [SPACE] is perhaps the company’s most ambitious project to date. By employing an ensemble of eight musicians, 13 dancers and four speaking characters, this one is, by comparison, more akin to a cast-of-thousands Cecil B. DeMille epic.
Based loosely on the story of Gilgamesh, our protagonist is Major Tom, played by ætherplough co-founder Thom Sibbitt. Still roaming the galaxy some 40-plus years after David Bowie launched the character in “Space Oddity,” he is a decidedly Chaplinesque fellow — note the trademark bowler hat and comedic, pantomimed antics. The retronaut is caught between the calculating, left-brained reasoning of a lab-coated scientist (J Richard Thomas) and the free-spirited spontaneity of a right-brained muse who questions the nature of love (ætherplough co-founder Susann Suprenant). Lían Amaris, who has no flesh and blood role, instead appears only via the giant video screen in playing a trippy, glitter-bombed flight attendant of sorts.
Listed in the program are such contributors as the aforementioned Bowie and the likes of William Shakespeare, Carl Jung, Kahlil Gibran and Carl Sagan, among many others. Suprenant, who also directs, has cobbled together an ingeniously intriguing script by curating a collage of quotes from the above layered atop her own original writing.
Like all of the company’s performances, sinewy modern dance movements dominate the tableau, but guest choreographer Wai Yim also introduces such anachronistic elements as a Rockettes-style kick line, a game of hop scotch and even a scene where Major Tom does a one-two-three-one-two-three waltz with a common household ladder, a prop that also doubles as his stairway to heaven.
Sibbitt shines in a role whose raw athleticism is outstripped only by the ethereal subtleties of its lilting poeticism.
Music director Satid Kippenberger’s original score, a collaborative effort elbowed this way and that by input from his orchestra, often resides in the arena of ambient sounds, but also wanders along a continuum that includes Latin and rock beats. There’s even a hauntingly jarring snippet featuring an Australian didgeridoo. Chris Machian’s video contributions — as eerie as they are lyrical — help propel the storyline in this multidimensional blend of sight and sound. Despite being staged in the barest of brick-and-concrete black box voids, [SPACE] somehow manages to attain a transcendentally organic quality that belies the cold surfaces and hard edges of its surroundings.
Unlike his namesake in Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” this Major Tom has little reason to believe that his “spaceship knows which way to go,” but ætherplough’s [SPACE]; or, the gods are dangerous charts a clear course for a mind-bendingly Quixotic quest that juxtaposes a sojourn into the vastness of the cosmos against the sort of “there’s no place like home” realities found only when looking deep within.
Ætherplough’s [SPACE]; or, the gods are dangerous ends its run this weekend at the Mastercraft Building, 1111 N. 13th St. A disco-reception follows with vocal artist Kirstin Kluver and video by Andrew Tatreau. Tickets are $10 for the 8 p.m. shows Oct. 27-29.