Trial and Eros – Elegant Heathens
Threading physical theatre, comedy, and painting-like montages with dance, Deborah Dunn’s Elegant Heathens is a unique and carefully crafted piece of delightful absurdity. The actors/dancers of Dunn’s company, Trial and Eros, have studied human facial and physical expressions at length.
When combined with Dunn’s sense of comedic timing and choreographic/directorial talents, the company members’ strength in human mimicry renders their characters’ actions and reactions—though plausible when considered in and of themselves—bizarre in the given context. When one young lady shows her pet bird to a male companion, for example, the latter inexplicably becomes absorbed in fondling and sniffing a chunk of her hair instead. At another point, this same female character sits suddenly upon her companion’s back and rides him demurely, as one would a horse, across the stage. These instances are merely bizarre fragments of a larger bizarre whole, in which expected human reactions are turned upside down. While Elegant Heathens may contain “absurdity for absurdity’s sake,” it also provides a thought-provoking glimpse at humanity, and the social codes we have developed to subdue our underlying, and perhaps more spontaneous, urges. The audience sees eccentricity repeatedly escaping the bounds of the social fabric that holds it within. While not all of us have experienced the urge to reveal our velour underpants to onlookers on a whim, as one character does, we have all had the desire to act in direct yet harmless contradiction of what is deemed “appropriate” in a given situation. Elegant Heathens temporarily lifts the veil of “socially appropriate behavior” from our shoulders and reminds us that to be human is to have quirks, desires and feelings we cannot always explain, but perhaps should not always need to. Social codes play an invaluable role in controlling humanity’s more destructive urges. When permitted to become unwieldy, however, such codes can have a stifling effect on the human spirit. In a world of red tape, rules and restrictions (social, governmental, what have you) Dunn’s work is an explorative breath of fresh air that reminds us of Art’s importance to Life, and to our world.