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Shadowland: a world of illusion


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Three sets of clothing suspended in the air above a rather busy-looking stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre whet the audience’s appetite for the magic to come in Shadowland.

Who will slip into the hanging outfits? What adventures await them?

Then suddenly the set is full of leaping and tumbling dancers, moving so rapidly, fluidly and gracefully that we barely notice the dresses, pants and shirts skimming onto the bodies of a young girl and her two “parents”.

The loose narrative driving this production by US dance-theatre troupe Pilobolus centres on the teenager (dancer Molly Gawler), who is caught in that fraught place between childhood and adulthood, yearning for independence and freedom. She manages to achieve both – though not quite in the way she probably imagined – when she falls asleep and enters a strange dream world.

Photo: Emmanuel Donny

Photo: Emmanuel Donny

This surreal and ever-changing “Shadowland” is presented through the use of multiple moving screens, projections, clever lighting, playful acrobatic choreography, and the most impressive shadow-play you are ever likely to see. Behind the screens, nine dancers use their bodies to build pieces of furniture, cars and buildings, then morph into all manner of weird and wonderful characters and creatures. The precision required is astonishing.

The audience is drawn into this wacky world, where our young heroine is chased by crazy chefs who want to cook her in a soup, turned into a dog-girl hybrid by a giant hand, given a lift by a cowboy, and kidnapped by a circus led by a whip-cracking, red-sequin-clad ring mistress. One of the highlights comes late in the piece when dog-girl’s heart is captured by a centaur; the ensuing front-of-stage choreography is beautifully touching.

American musician and composer David Poe’s eclectic and sometimes chaotic score drives the story of Shadowland, which is full of whimsy, wit and a little melancholy. This is fantasy, pure and simple – an escape into a world of illusion that will win the hearts of both adults and kids (although it’s probably better suited to older children).

And then there’s the cute extended “encore”, tailor-made for the Australian tour, with a special nod to Adelaide. The audience couldn’t stop clapping.

Shadowland is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until July 13.

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