Nathan Griswold and Ana Maria Lucaciu are engaging dancers who portray fear of the overlord in "Slightly Off Stage."
A disagreement in dystopia – that’s how I would describe “Slightly Off Stage,” a duet created and performed by Ana Maria Lucaciu and Nathan Griswold.
The work-in-progress, shown at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center on Saturday, was thought-provoking and the dancing by Lucaciu and Griswold, telling. They moved as one, solid in their positions, but responsive. They harbored that delicate balance with clarity and purpose.
All this took place while trapped in a factory-like atmosphere where they are tasked with frantically assembling and disassembling stacks of papers as told to them by “they” and an unseen overseer whose voice directed their moves.
It was clear from the start that these two excellent dancers – Lucaciu from the shuttered Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Griswold from the Atlanta Ballet – were portraying characters whose personalities were repressed. Dressed alike in gray and black, they arrived to the stage with a tower of papers between them. Though they glanced at each other surreptitiously, they executed their cross-purposes – she, to take papers in while he, to take them out.
It was a set up for their duet – a demonstration of what these two do best, dance together. For “Slightly Off Stage,” they appeared apprehensive, looking upward, fearing the bosses' scolding. When the let go, they mirrored each other’s moves and pushed each other outward. The result was both preserving their personas as worker bees, occasionally stopping to point a finger of blame at each other, while allowing a glimmer of their individuality to seep through a crack.
Meanwhile, the neat pile of papers loomed – until it didn’t. With Griswold swinging her by her ankles, Lucaciu allowed herself to became a Zamboni – both sweeping the floor with her belly and extended arms, scattering the papers across the stage.
After realizing her error, Lucaciu did try to gather up the pieces, but then gave up, letting the papers remain in a crumbled heap. She was free from the fear of the invisible overlord, but Griswold wasn’t. While she tried to coax him back into their sympathetic duet, his heart was frozen, lost in the anxiety of the deep-voiced despot. He finished “Slightly Off Stage” trying to reassemble the stack.
The work was obviously Orwellian. Decades ago, it might have felt foreign. Unfortunately, today, “Slightly Off Stage” reverberates as relevant.