Derevo, multi-award winning company from St. Petersburg, take over the stage at Assembly Roxy with a mad, often ridiculous, but inevitably interesting mixture of physical theatre, stunning technical effects and numerous watermelons.
It’s hard to describe the narrative. Notes made during the performance include “scarecrow v. snowman, April thaw a nightmare” and “food fight feat. Back to the Future hairdo”, but these scrawls come nowhere near a useful analysis of what Derevo is presenting with Mephisto Waltz. Strangely androgynous beings in black pollinate the stage filled with numerous props as we are whisked through scene after scene, each one reminiscent of something we’ve witnessed before but ultimately leaving us unsure how to describe what that something is. We scuttle through more and more psychedelic sections with our meerkat-like guides, occasionally pausing to observe the protagonist (if you can single out one individual from this almost seamless ensemble) apparently aging and losing control over his own position amongst the sunflowers, his peers, and even his sanity.
The Derevo website offers no further illumination on what the show or the company are about, as similarly vague and abstract on their own intentions and influences as the description above. Perhaps this is because it’s profound and open to interpretation; perhaps it’s because even the company doesn’t know what their work is trying to say. Either way, it’s certainly down to personal taste whether you come away feeling like you’ve witnessed “a personal journey and a declaration of love”, or you come away splattered with mud, melon and flakes of snow, somewhat baffled and feeling a little violated.
Technically, however, the show is empirically beautiful, the lighting in particular is a visual feast that illuminates the shuddering performers and incrementally bizarre sequences with true imagination and infallible technique. The topless dancer with furry legs would be far less intriguing without the stunning use of shadow and backlighting that punctuates the show so effectively.
There is no doubt that Derevo cannot fail to grab your attention with this new work; it’s easy to see how they have managed to win so many awards. There is certainly evident talent, technique and a dedication to their own unique style that is to be envied. But when we question what purpose all the profundity serves, we are left somewhat dissatisfied. No doubt this is on purpose, but it is not to everyone’s taste. Why must we be so confused?