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Nichole Canuso's Pandaemonium a Crowning Achievement

by Lewis J Whittington
September 19, 2016
Fringe Arts
140 N. Columbus Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 413-1318
The world-premiere of dancer/choreographer Nichole Canuso’s Pandaemonium at Philadelphia's FringeArts September 14-18, 2016, conjured drama, absurdity and trippy dreams via dance, film and theater.

Canuso has created work for all 20 of FringeArts Fringe Festivals and Pandaemonium strikes as her crowning achievement. The work performed by Nichole Canuso Dance Company/Early Morning Opera, is in part a visual homage to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960s cult film “Zabriskie’s Point.” It alludes to the narrative of the film and the mystique of Antonioni’s emotional existentialism between lovers explored in all of his films. That subtext however, does not overshadow Pandaemonium's own entrancing artistic merits.

Film footage of Canuso, her stage partner Geoff Sobelle and composer Xander Duell in the Mojave Desert and in Joshua tree was projected onstage as Sobelle and Canuso performed in different corners of the stage covered in set pieces including a drive-in screen. Live action videos feeds were also added.

For the first half of the work we don’t know what is going on with these two. Do they know each other or is this just a visual movement piece without narrative. But when Canuso puts papers in front of him to sign, the pieces fall together. They are apart on stage but together on the screen via the interactive software design.

When papers magically appear in front of Sobelle and he signs them, all of the vitriol and movement mayhem burst out. They rip the stage set apart. They dance with their mannequin doubles until their arms and legs fall off around them, they upend everything in sight. On the drive – in screen, there are incongruous hippie romps in the desert with Canuso and Sobelle bopping around in tie dye shrouds and rocker wigs courtesy of costume designer Olivera Gajic.

The chemistry between the two dancers heats up when Duell does an acid rock cover of Journey's "Don’t Stop Believing" and Canuso is suddenly in a real-time framing onscreen driving and crying with Sobelle maneuvering spotlights to look like a car headlights. Canuso then flung herself out of the frame to do a thrasher dance to match Duell’s guitar solo. Sobelle then went to the other corner of the stage and into an antsy panic and paroxysms that he collapsed from.

In one segment of a live-feed juxtaposition, Sobelle and Canuso, both crumbled on the floor in an erotic pas de deux that was manipulated through a kaleidoscope a la how Hollywood used to depict an LSD trip. Later, they make love on a table as Duell’s synth symphonic blooms to a very tender cinematic track with the pair acrobatically and sensually vaulting on and off a rectangular table.

Sobelle is a seasoned actor with range, and he proves himself a game mover, doing a handstand on the edge of the table or swinging by his wrist on a utility rope. At one point in the film he leapt off of a boulder into a dark crevasse. Canuso, conversely, primarily a dancer, proves an equal acting partner to Sobelle.

Their narrative unfolds abstractly as their eerie overlapping characters onscreen evoke turmoil and tenderness. Pablo N. Molina and Jesse Garrison’s video and interactive designs are stunning enough, but the desert footage is a completely seducing visual template of earth and flesh tones capturing the look of 35mm film stock of the 60s. It is emotionally stunning atmospherics in an age of forensic coldness of hi-def aesthetics.

It is not surprising to hear that this piece was being tweaked right up to the opening given the level of stage and tech craft needed, not to mention the beautifully crafted performances. Credit also goes to stage director Lars Jan who kept the work on track with all of the disparate elements of dance, theater and film arts unfolding at once.

Duell’s original music and lonely road love songs were delivered in his dusty caterwaul that faded to honeyed whispers.

There were no big explosions at the end of Pandaemonium like there was at the end of "Zabriskie’s Point," just a survival guide for those sardonic absurdities ready to play on that big retro drive-in of the mind.

Next, Nichole Canuso Dance Company/Early Morning Opera perform Pandaemonium at New York Live Arts (New York, NY), September 28 – October 1, 2016.
Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou


Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in 'Pandaemonium.'

Nichole Canuso Dance Company / Early Morning Opera in "Pandaemonium."

Photo © & courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou

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