During the past few sunny days those of us in town have had a chance to notice something often overlooked: our shadow selves. But our shadow is not merely the interaction between sunlight, our bodies, and pavement. It is a reminder of what is mysterious, indefinable, and bottomless about our human experience. In her haunting and evocative piece, dancer and choreographer Paola Bianchi methodically explores this phenomenon of literal and mythical darkness in Duplica.
Episodically structured, Duplica begins with a body trying to move without its body. In 3D space, Bianchi is a head attached to combat-booted feet – the way kid-logic might draw a person. Crouched, she shuffles along in a grid, laboring and hindered. Later, Bianchi has moved behind a large drop and now it is her shadow we encounter. By contrast the shadow moves freely, has all its limbs, sometimes many more than anticipated, and is capable of virtuosic, dancerly extension and flexibility. Bianchi plays with our perception of light and dark in contemplative moments when her body parts obstruct the light and, in turn, the light distorts her negative image. In front of one floor-mounted lamp she is able to “erase” her own knee. Her long, articulate arms, seen in a glowing rectangle, become branches, tentacles, elephant trunks, ribbons, blades. Much of what she does recalls film – both early experimental cinema and the great black-and-white Noir classics – in its understanding of shadow as refuge and light as menace. Her drop is a black cloth, not a theatrical “scrim” that disappears when backlit, so when she is illuminated in that area she appears grainy and out-of-focus, like a 16mm reel shot a century ago, like looking back in time.
There are a few duets where both her body and her shadow are fully visible, and these are rich with associations and dream-imagery. She appears hunted, haunted, followed, and found by her dark partner. Yet, for all that is accomplished in the piece, her execution is remarkably simple: a dancing body, a drop, some white lights used to illuminate and obscure. There are no pyrotechnics; although there is a section when her two-dimensional self becomes so large it consumes the entire space, reaching up past the skylight and into the night.
Our shadow selves are inside us, beside us, and surrounding us. In her thoughtful and uncanny piece, Bianchi delves into the experience of meeting one’s dark side, and succumbing to its wisdom. Duplica is a challenging, intelligent work deftly and deeply considered with the ability to reveal both the blinding light and infinite darkness inside us all.