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‘Five Doors One Room’ is full of talent, but something is lost in translation

Dance is a form of language. “Dance-talk” is something that young ballerinas learn while they are still in elementary school. Even without speech, dance has the power to tell a story and convey an idea. However, most viewers are not fluent in “dance-talk,” making narrative choreography more difficult. When your dance piece is a devised, avant-garde piece of performance art, it gets even harder. You need a clear, cohesive idea that can be communicated through the avant-garde, and a talented group of dancers who can bring your vision to life. In Professor Emerita Susan Dibble’s new DibbleDance piece for the Brandeis Theater Department, “Five Doors One Room,” the talent is certainly there, but the idea is tough to pin down.

 

There is no denying the brilliance of the “Five Doors” student cast, led by Kieran Whitney ’23 as the Keeper of the Keys. Whitney’s perfectly timed facial expressions and clear grasp of movement make him the perfect choice to hold the ensemble together. He is joined by Allison Luo ’23 as Eva Muse. Luo, clearly a trained ballerina, is technical perfection onstage, and does an excellent job complementing Whitney as a co-lead. The student ensemble is equally talented, and it is clear that every dancer is putting 100% and then some into their roles.

 

Joining the students are four adult dancers, including Brandeis alum Sheila Bandyopadhy MFA ’99 as Nandaa, Ryan Winkles as Guido Vitus, J.B. Barricklo as Icaruso, and Susan Dibble herself as Epis and Doctor Doom. Brandeis Professor Nancy Armstrong (Theatre Arts) joins the ensemble as the opera-singing Calliope. While the adult dancers are engaging, at times it feels as though they pull focus from the students—who, in my opinion, ought to be the focus of a college theater production. There is also a sequence in which Luo dances a pas de deux style piece with Barricklo, which is mildly uncomfortable to watch.

 

“Five Doors” is teeming with concept, so much so that the program includes a list of key symbols (keys, the number five, bread, the little chair, among others) and their wide-reaching meanings. Leaving the theatre, multiple audience members proposed their own theories for what the play meant, including mythology, destruction, childhood and coming of age. In avant-garde art, confusion and concept is part of the point. However, a successful narrative dance piece relies on a certain level of cohesion, and the massive number of concepts and aesthetics of “Five Doors” can make the narrative hard to follow. Rather than being moved, struck, or otherwise impacted by the show’s message, the vast majority of people I spoke with after the show just felt confused.

 

Aesthetically, the show is eclectic. The set is dark wood and minimalist, but hides some great tricks that are revealed at the end. The use of the five doors is clever and extremely effective. Meanwhile, Zane Kelsey’s costume design is everywhere at once. While most of the costumes are beautiful (particularly the skirts for the village girls), the silk slip dress for Haila (Maya Mondlak-Reuveni ’24) restricts her movement, and the long skirt of Luo’s dress was practically begging to be stepped on (and was, at curtain call). Finding elaborate costumes that are practical for dance pieces is a difficult task, and it felt as though the costume design for “Five Doors” could do with several raised hemlines. Considering every actor had a unique character, I wish more time went into giving every dancer a distinctive look. The design occupied an odd valley of the uncanny between uniform and avant-garde, and based on the wackiness of the choreography, the design could have been pushed further.

 

While “Five Doors” has moments of brilliance, including a showstopping final number set to Vivaldi, each dance piece ultimately feels disconnected from the next. As an episodic series of movement pieces, it succeeds with flying colors. As a full narrative, the “dance talk” does not fully reach the audience. It is difficult to connect the “bread kneading” dance with the “little chair” dance with the “throwing a doll back and forth” dance. At times I enjoyed just sitting back and enjoying the ride, but at other points I craved more cohesion. There is a fine line between glorious chaos and throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks, and in my opinion, “Five Doors” spends ample time on both sides of that line. The show is fun and heady to watch, but when the lights go up, it’s challenging to work out what one has just seen. This challenge is compounded when you have a program in front of you that is enumerating the various symbols woven into the show. Sometimes, it feels as though “Five Doors” might be too steeped in metaphor for its own good.

 

Overall, “Five Doors One Room” is carried by its exceptional cast, comic beats, gorgeous set and engaging choreography. While there are some elements that could do with an edit, the show as a whole succeeds in entertaining the viewer. However, clearly detailed ideas of Dibble do not reach the audience in full. As far as the “dance talk” goes, something is lost in translation.

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