The Silence of Outer Space
Quasimodo’s new production is a completely silent play depending only on physical movement.
In a space ballet, no one can hear you scream.
At least, not as it’s portrayed in Bottle 99, the new production by Quasimondo, a wordless journey through deep space that lets the group explore the movement-based elements of their highly physical theater/dance fusion.
“We wanted to just concentrate on movement, and make that a challenge,” says Brian Rott, Quasimondo’s founder and artistic director. He and ensemble member Jenni Reinke are co-directing the production, devised from scratch by them and the rest of the cast and crew. From the beginning Rott and Reinke wanted to draw on modern dance, even as they began crafting an increasingly elaborate backstory for their explorers.
Bottle 99 takes as its setting a single spaceship, traveling to an identified habitable planet so distant the ship’s current inhabitants are several generations removed from the original astronauts. Its characters are slightly post-human, raised in the vacuum of space, genetically coordinated to fulfill particular duties and telepathically linked through a neural network that makes speech unnecessary. The eight actors portraying these crew members (known only by their functions: Navigator, Engineer, Quality Control, etc.) will do so through a variety of vignettes, soon colored by a shocking revelation.
It’s this crisis that has fueled much of the exploration Quasimondo’s done with the show. In the early days of its devising, Rott says, the group focused on the scientific and technological end of things – what the psychological and physiological dangers of deep space travel were, for instance, and the mechanics of how human beings would have to adapt to the journey. But the more they worked on the show, the more it became about the humanity resurfacing in these slightly foreign characters.
Without words, though, all that character development has to be done through movement, a task made all the trickier task since not all cast members are trained dancers. But Reinke, who’s been training the performers in modern dance before the beginning of every rehearsal, says there’s a silver lining here: “It’s always a fun experience to teach movement to people who aren’t movers, and see what they can do and what they can’t. There are more unique qualities that you might not be able to pull out of dancers, who have such a uniform training.”
In addition to focusing on dance, Rott says the show will explore a variety of multimedia elements. Their stage will be stocked with four different projectors, producing abstract backdrops and technologic displays to interact with. And they’ve aligned with experimental composer Wylie Hefti, who worked with Rott on a DanceCircus show last year and has created a score for Bottle 99 that more closely resembles a soundscape, with 5.1 surround sound installed in the theater to create a truly integrated, immersive experience.
Rott says Bottle 99’s sound and visual elements help emphasize that the show is non-linear and abstract, more so than other shows they’ve done in their first two seasons. While they’ve streamlined things slightly after audience comments made during previews last weekend to clarify things here or there, ambiguity is at the heart of the show, which he likens more to “a painting that everyone will see something different in” than a concrete storyline. The production is an exploration as much as the one it depicts – into a realm of performance Milwaukee rarely gets to see.
April 16 through April 27 at the Milwaukee Fortress, 100A E. Pleasant St. Performances are at 8 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Sunday matinees. Tickets are $18 at the door and $15 online in advance.
PREVIEW: David’s Redhaired Death at the Underground Collaborative
From beneath the umbrella of her new company Side Street Productions, Milwaukee actress Tess Cinpinski is striking out solo with this production of David’s Redhaired Death, a drama that tells the story of two women whose love affair is shaken to its core when one picks up the phone and learns her brother David is dead. It’s material Cinpinski is quite familiar with – she first performed it with her former ensemble, Youngblood Theatre, as the company’s very first show back in 2009. Cinpinski will reprise her role from that production, this time opposite Amanda J. Hull.
David’s Redhaired Death will be performed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Underground Collaborative, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., from April 18 to 26. Performances are at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $15, and can be ordered online.
CLOSING THIS WEEK:
Splinter Group: Mr. Marmalade, through April 19
Soulstice Theatre: Still Life, through April 19
Fireside: Mary Poppins, through April 20
ALSO ON STAGE:
Alchemist Theatre: Use No Place Soon, through April 26
Renaissance Theaterworks: Skin Tight, through April 27
Next Act: Three Views of the Same Object, through April 27
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre: Lend Me A Tenor, through April 27
Theatre Unchained: Company, through April 27
Milwaukee Rep: The History of Invulnerability, Quadracci Powerhouse, through May 4; Ain’t Misbehavin’, Stackner Cabaret, through May 18