Memories and nostalgia of a girl’s life gone past, flashing through from a young girl at play, to a teenager, a mother with her doting tendencies toward perfection, and the final stages of a woman’s life – are all displayed in this new exploratory theatrical performance piece created by banished? productions. Into the Dollhouse is a collective movement piece devised by four females, three dancers and a director, that sets a heavy focus on the imagery of the female entity, but more specifically a woman in her childhood.
The experience is quite unlike anything you’ll ever have. A pair of Set Artisans, Niell DuVal and Levia C. Lew, work together to create a small space in which the exploration takes place. From the moment you enter the room you feel as if you are entering another world; almost like you are taking a step into a child’s bedroom, or even as the title would suggest, a dollhouse. All around the space are hundreds of little girls’ clothing pieces – baby jumpers, little girl’s dresses, pretty pink onesies – a myriad of different outfits one might dress upon an infant or young toddler. Most are strung from the ceiling, floating at various levels from the top of the space to the ground, and a few are simply laid on the ground. Only the outfits aren’t simply outfits, they are fully structured to look as if there are hundreds of invisible girls floating between the fabric. It creates a sense of surrealism while maintaining the feminine approach to the work.
As the audience enters the space they are told to explore while three performers who are extremely well-grounded in their own focus bubbles – interact with the audience as they fill the space. You might be asked to play tea party, or join in a game of ‘cootie-catcher.’ The experience will be different for each individual and yet collectively the same.
Carrie Monger, Stefanie Quinones Bass, and Jennifer Rivers, in collaboration with Director Carmen C. Wong, work together to create a visually stunning experience to probe your mind and make you think throughout the performance. There is loose interpretive dance, mixed with moments of shared pastimes – things that all young girls or girls of a certain age can relate to.
Each girl addresses a role in the life of a woman at the beginning of the performance, without ever actually labeling the role itself. Carrie Monger takes on the later stage of life, the figure of the mother – there is never an expression or vocalization that she is a mother, but it is clear through her gestures and interactions with the audience members that she’s the matriarchal figure. Monger dotes upon various on-lookers – and she even straightened my coat collar and offered me some of her anti-aging beauty cream – moving through the space with purpose and focus. Stefanie Quinones Bass has adapted the role of a teenager. Bass is constantly in motion, with the energy of a youthful woman, eager to make friends, eager to interact. She wants to share her tape collection, and adapts the nasally stereotypical sound of a teenage girl when she speaks, and uses her flashy sunglasses to accentuate the character.
Jennifer Rivers slides easily into the role of a young girl playing with her plastic tea set and wandering around not really talking to but sharing with the audience all of her little plastic foods and discoveries thereof in a stereotypical childlike manner. The most intense thing about Rivers’ performance is when she’s sprawled out on the floor, rolling around over herself simply doing what small babies and toddlers do – playing by exploring their own body with the stretching of limbs and the proportion of body to floor ratio being a large focal point. You can see the movements, though elongated and with bigger and longer limbs, of a baby, the pulling of the feet up to the mouth, the spinning and crawling, reaching for things they can’t quite grasp. It is a compelling characters choice for Rivers and of the three performers I found myself watching her the most in the beginning.
There is music and digital video projections and all manner of things to stimulate the senses as the exploratory piece evolves. The girls lose their self-assigned roles and become one collective girl in beige or nude undergarments, dancing and expressing their emotions through physicality. The piece encompasses all stages of womanhood, right up to the last moment. Performer Nicola Daval joins the three dancers on stage at the end of the production, moving slowly down a straight line of well-placed props. She prepares herself, singing a song about how to live at her age, a sorrowful but beautiful melodic number. And when she is finished, standing in the light after traveling down the path of light, it would appear she has prepared herself for that final step, laid out to be seen by all who loved her.
I hardly feel like I’m doing the experience justice, so the best way to truly enjoy this incredible creation is to go to the Flashpoint Mead Theatre Lab and enjoy Into the Dollhouse on your own.
Running Time: One hour with no intermission.
Into the Dollhouse is available for exploration through February 26, 2012, at banished? productions at the Flashpoint Mead Theatre Lab – 916 G street NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, please call (202) 315-1305, or purchase them online.