Theaterlab's Wildwood Flowers, created and choreographed by Reut Shemesh, is a gripping, edgy, and evocative movement piece. This piece, which premiered in Cologne earlier this year, has now been reimagined by Shemesh with New York performers, trying to capture the New York energy by exploring ideas of identity in multitude.
The all-female cast (Verina Kranak, Jessica McCarthy, Maya Orchin, and Schuyler Whittermore) are pushed to their physical and emotional extremes in this demanding work, called upon to form and re-form themselves as different representatives of gender, age, social class, and race. All four dancers wear freakish-looking masks, created by Mona Kakanj, which sometimes seem grotesque, at others sympathetic. These masks suggest at once a masking and unmasking of the self. Can someone be reinvented as soon as they take off that outer layer of themselves? And what we see underneath, is it attractive and honest and pure? When the masks do come off there is an element of surprise as we see the performers in a fragile, almost frightened form. We see them completely under the control of their ringmaster, the single performer who doesn’t take of her mask.
It is difficult to describe the music of Wildwood Flowers because the rhythm and style are minimalist, almost broken down to singular beats and sounds. And yet, at times there is a lyricism that moves both the dancers and the narrative of the piece towards a new transformation or revelation of another layer -- again an unmasking. The entire space is painted white; the shadows of the performers almost hauntingly give further reference to the idea that there are layers that need to be removed to get to our essential core.