Off-Broadway Review: VOLCANO (St. Anne’s Warehouse)

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by Paola Bellu on January 12, 2024

in Theater-New York

Written, directed and choreographed by Luke Murphy from Ireland, Volcano — at St. Anne’s Warehouse as part of Under the Radar Festival — is a dance/theatre production you will not forget. Not only because it is presented as four episodes, each 45 minutes long, a very unusual format, but for the fluidity of its movements, the impressive range of dance routines, the harmony between the two characters.

It’s a sci-fi story: The Amber Project, a Spokesman lets us know through an old TV screen, is the world’s largest collection of human experiences. The chair of a missed mother, the tiny hand of a baby grabbing his father’s finger, a young artist walking through the Accademia Gallery in Florence for the first time, people submit their treasured or awkward moments to make a ‘definition’ of us on Earth. Amber then sends pods with people to Space in the hope to encounter other life forms and offer them that ‘definition.’

Luke Murphy and Will Thompson play X and Y: Murphy is looking for purpose, something to care about and wishes to “stay the course”; Thompson welcomes the adventure and wants to “grab the bull by the horns.” Their personality is clear in all their incredibly creative movement sequences; Y is always restless, X reassures him and looks for a sense of normality even if we know that something went wrong. How? Many clues here and there, the best one is when Murphy performs a hilarious William Shatner’s Spoken Word rendition of Elton John’s “Rocketman.”

The two people in our pod are not astronauts but more like contestants; X paid, Y won a spot, they have to stay for two years in a decrepit living room, surrounded by old furniture, inside a pod, floating in Space. Designed by Alyson Cummins and Pai Rathaya, the pod looks like a large glass cage from a zoo and the dingy set inside contains a collection of memorabilia that are flawlessly rearranged by Murphy and Thompson many times during the play.

Murphy and Thompson are supposed to film each other and share their memories but they are confused with the other memories Amber is collecting from other people. At times, they dance as if there is no apparent weight, leaning, supporting, rolling on each other, raising one another in unforgettable pas de deux that show their dreamy state. A few minutes later, they are deep in a montage of disco fingers, snap, funky chicken, only to change jackets and turn into Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire — snapshots of people’s pasts adding to their confusion.

Created during the pandemic, it makes us feel the passing of time through the endlessness of their voyage, dark and unknown. It is also extremely funny when needed, to alleviate the gloom, and has an intriguing plot — something you will never expect from an already exceptional choreography. Luke Murphy is showing us a new way to integrate dance and theatre; we should pay attention.

photos courtesy of St. Anne’s Warehouse

part of the 2024 Under the Radar Festival
in association with Irish Arts Center
St. Anne’s Warehouse, 45 Water St in Brooklyn (on the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park)
3 hours and 45 minutes with intervals
ends on January 21, 2024
for tickets, visit St. Anne’s Warehouse

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