“When Angels Fall”: El Greco Would Be Proud

When Angels Fall – Photo Credit: Georges Ridel

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Direction and Choreography by Raphaëlle Boitel
Artistic Collaboration, Set and Light Design by Tristan Baudoin
Original Soundtrack and Sound Design by Arthur Bison
Costumes by Lilou Hérin
Rigging, Machinery and Set Design by Nicolas Lourdelle

February 20 – 24, 2019
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater
219 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116
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Review by Diana Lu

(Boston, MA) When Angels Fall melds dance, aerial circus, slapstick humor, cinematic visual arts and more to weave a fantastical tale of fallen angels (or humans) trying to make sense of their harsh dystopian landscape and their places within (or without) it. As a synthesis of disparate disciplines, director and choreographer Raphaëlle Boitel has crafted a truly original new performance art, and this is a major artistic accomplishment in and of itself. 

The original soundtrack was wonderful and the visuals were stunning, especially the contrast of darkness and light. At one point, all the performers were front stage in a group dance that looked like a living Renaissance painting. It was clear that all the performers were incredibly talented and technically impeccable, and I most enjoyed watching how the humor and relationships between the performers were revealed and evolved. It’s a nice reminder of the expressivity of movement and how much communication is non-verbal.

This is also the one and only circus arts performance I’ve ever seen in my entire life that wasn’t racist, and I must give everyone involved major accolades for that achievement. It seems like a low bar and doesn’t need to be noted, but it does. It does.

That said, the whole thing just felt very pretentious to me. Like, if you asked a 9thgrade theater geek how to describe “high art,” this exact show is what they would come up with. The promotional photos for When Angels Fall entices viewers to see the performers with wings they don’t have on stage. That was only one of the ways this show felt like watching the Emperor put on his new clothes. As a story, it desperately needed a more substantive narrative throughline to connect the scenes and connect to the audience. 

I also wasn’t really buying the whole “industrial dystopia” scenario. At this point, it’s a cyberpunk cliché and this production’s version wasn’t as well executed as The Matrix, which by the way, came out 20 years ago. The dread of impending apocalypse, technological or otherwise, is valid, but one mediated by giant, sentient desklamps just doesn’t resonate with me.

Some people I walked out of the theater with were saying “that was…powerful” in a monotone, with dead eyes. Most seemed somewhat confused, but embarrassed about feeling that way, as if they felt like they were supposed to “get it” but didn’t and now they’re afraid everyone else is going to find out and think they’re idiots. To be sure, maybe I’m the lone idiot who just doesn’t grasp the grandeur of Boitel’s epic vision, but, especially as a performing artist myself, I trust my gut instinct and my bullshit radar.

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