Astra Dance is currently performing the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari based on the classic silent film. The company has ambitious plans to combine elements of dance, film and acrobatics to retell the story of Caligari “a suspenseful tale of love, murder at the turn of the century, filled with science and madness.”
While there were interesting elements of the show, the music and dialogue cards, overall the piece was a disappointment. When going to see a dance company, I expect to see a lot of dancing and during the first act, there wasn’t much. The piece begins with Francis telling an unnamed man, the story of his tragic past. A Mountebank enters the town of Holstenwall and proceeds to set up a traveling side show. At the fair Caligari controls a somnambulist who tells the town people their futures. During the set up and through out the first act, the Astra relied on text cards and pantomime instead of choreography to tell the story. A major part of the problem was that the leading man, Francis, wasn’t strong enough to carry this production. During the first act Francis did very little dancing, which is odd considering he is one of the leads. The other feature players, Dr. Olson and Dr. Caligari in particular also did little dancing throughout the entire piece. The police officers are the only characters that consistently brought strong dancing.
The second major problem that Astra faced is that there was too much activity on the stage at once. During the first stop at the circus, it seemed that all of the acts were performing at the same time. The strong men, the contortionist, man on stilts and dancers crowded the stage together. Taking into account the text cards being flashed on the sides of the stage, your eyes weren’t sure where to rest. Because of this busyness, I didn’t get a sense of whimsy that a circus or side show should have.
After an intermission that lasted way to long (25 minutes), the company returned with a stronger second half. The focus and storytelling were stronger. The dances sets were longer and moved the plot forward without heavily relying on pantomime and text cards.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an interesting premise that needs to be rework before it can be consider a success.