Fingers in “Cold Blood”

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Original idea by Michèle Anne De Mey
Produced by Astragale ASBL
Co-produced by Charleroi Danses

May 30 to June 3, 2018
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
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Reviewed by Bishop C. Knight

(Downtown Boston, MA)  The show began with a narrator sonorously incanting:  “It’s dark. You hear a voice. That voice will count to three, and at three you will be asleep.  One. Two. Three.”

And we were all entranced.  Cold Blood was a magical meditation on reincarnation.  Yet, although enchanting and playful au fond, this production obviously totaled a million hours of toil for its very talented production team.  The principal impresarios seem to be filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael who was cinematographer as well as performer, choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey who conceived the creative concept and translated the show from French to English, along with Gabriella Iacono who danced and also translated.  This team’s legerdemain successfully celebrated dying with lightness and rapt nostalgia.

The show provided and portrayed some of my deeper ideals; those I spend every day chasing and then wondering “Is it worth it?”  As silly as it may sound, one of those ideals has been shadow play. For sometime before seeing Cold Blood, I’d sit on the couch or at my desk and frown at my unmet yearning for shadow puppetry.  The technical term is ombromanie or shadowgraphy, performance using images created from hand shadows.  While I was ready for miniature sets because they had been so actively advertised, I was pleased and transported when hands began to dance behind a translucent screen. 

I suspect everyone in the auditorium had their own private wide-eye moment. For me, the segment when two pairs of human paws do a beautiful baile behind a soft white scrim took on Asa Nisi Masa significance.  It was as if the storytellers of Cold Blood read my mind, or rather they’d brought to Boston an old theatre tradition I had been craving to encounter.  In a performance about something we all will experience – death – the art of shadow play was fitting because it is a form of entertainment universally enjoyed in cultures around the world.  It was a case of everyman’s art depicting everyman’s decease.

However, while watching Cold Blood, more than contemplate how you’ll die, patrons were encouraged to contemplate what and whom you will remember while you are dying.  I thought of my favorite human being, young and before their hair had gone grey, an afternoon along the Charles River. The lovebirds sitting next to me made frequent eye contact while covertly clasping their hands.  The older lady across the aisle held her hands together over her chest, and she was probably the first to jump up and start the standing ovation.

This show was emotionally triggering, and its soundtrack only further enhanced the storytellers’ psychological hypnotising of the audience.  Arvo Pärt’s minimalist compositions are prayerful and solemn. So when Pärt’s melodic Spiegel im Spiegel cued in during one of these poignant parts of the performance, the audience plummeted a few leagues deeper into the emotional oceans we were already swimming around.  These existential parts of the show felt very intimate and so dreamlike.

But the approach of death, in real life, is punishing.  Weeks before seeing Cold Blood, I spent time with an elderly person and witnessed up close the end of a person’s time.  When the narrator of Cold Blood confidently whispered “All of that, it will come to an end,” I felt a surprising urgency to immediately leave and to voraciously live.  Appropriately, after this omniscient “it will end” statement, the next vignette was of two hands in a frenzied tap dancing challenge. Cold Blood was encouraging its patrons to make their most courageous memories before life is over. Cold Blood reminds us that three life-defining minutes can determine the following thirty years of this incarnation. Cold Blood was emboldening patrons to pursue romance, sex, and humor, and the storytellers were right.

If you enjoyed the elegant whimsy of Shape of Water, you’ll enjoy Cold Blood. This production has left Boston, but the dance company continues their tour.  Next they will be in Québec and then Edinburgh. Click here for the entire tour schedule. If you can, definitely see this feature-length reflection on lives before deaths!

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