By Steve Sucato
One of the best local dance productions of the 2015-16 season, Elu Dance Company‘s barefaced was a thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived dance-theater work based on C. S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces” — a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche from The Golden Ass of Apuleius.
Now, after a 3-year hiatus, a newly enhanced and expanded version of barefaced returns to the stage, Saturday, September 14 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland.
Directed, choreographed and performed by Elu company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, the 90-minute production tells the harrowing and heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their loving bond as sisters that transcends gods and realms.
Told from the perspective of Orual, as an accusation against the gods, barefaced is set in the fictive kingdom of Glome where the beautiful Psyche has been sentenced as a human sacrifice to the unseen “God of the Mountain”. But instead of meeting her fate on the mountain, Orual discovers her sister is very much alive and is now the bride of “God of the Mountain”. A fantastical tale of deception and devotion ensues spanning lifetimes that Clark and Valley play out onstage in contemporary dance movement.
Set to music composed, performed and recorded by Ken and Patt Wadenpfuhl from Cleveland-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also uses recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to help drive the story line.
Clark and Valley will also once again share the stage with local artist and sculptor Mark Sugiuchi’s mixed-medium mountain sculpture and for this updated production. What has changed for this production is Clark and Valley say they have almost entirely re-choreographed the work. They have also added another layer to their storytelling in the form of dance film snippets created by Mark Valley that are weaved throughout the production and depict additional scenes from the Lewis’ tale performed by 10 area professional dancers.
“We wanted to make the storytelling more concrete,” says Valley.
The hope for Clark and Valley is that the changes made to the production will make an already great production more readable for audiences. Suffice it to say, if that is the case this new barefaced production may be one of this new dance season’s early hits.
Elu Dance Company presents barefaced…inspired by C. S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces,” 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 14; Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th Street, Cleveland; Tickets are $22–45 and available online at playhousesquare.org or by calling (216) 241-6000.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.