Let there be light

In the Beginning: A Potentialist Ballet

Dancers Aurora Boles, Michelle Perez, producer Kelsey Sweet, writer Pan Pantoja, Isabel Fagoaga, and Aric Shapiro don their puppet master ensembles.

Dancers Aurora Boles, Michelle Perez, producer Kelsey Sweet, writer Pan Pantoja, Isabel Fagoaga, and Aric Shapiro don their puppet master ensembles.

Photo/Ashley Hennefer

In the Beginning opens 7 p.m., Jan. 16. Additional shows are on Jan. 17-18, Jan. 22-25, Jan. 29-31, Feb. 1, and Feb. 5-7. Show begins at 7 p.m. weekdays, 5 p.m. Saturdays. 2275 Dickerson Road. $15 general admission, $10 for students.

In the beginning, the Earth was created by a collision of light, sound and organic matter—the essences of which are captured in the Potentialist Workshop’s latest production, In the Beginning: A Potentialist Ballet. According to workshop co-founders Aric Shapiro and Pan Pantoja, despite the variation of creation beliefs among religions, the inception of the world is one of the most beautiful creation stories worth exploring.

The result is a black light show using both human bodies and painted puppets to give the illusion of a “painting in motion,” according to Pantoja.

“We wanted to make a painting people are familiar with, so the team came up with using ’creation,’” he says. He likens the scientific level of the show to “third grade science,” as the hour-long performance goes through “different stages of the Earth.”

Keeping the show to around an hour was important to Pantoja. “I don’t like going over an hour,” he says. “I don’t think the modern audience wants to sit through that.”

While the Potentialist Workshop has only been around for a few months (“Live up to it,” Sept. 12, 2013), they’ve set an ambitious goal of producing a show every six to eight weeks. So far, they’ve succeeded. In the Beginning, which opens on Jan. 16, took seven weeks from inception to opening performance.

Pantoja was given the music for the show about five years ago by local musician XTeViON (of the sCHIZoPOLITANs), and after several years, saw an opportunity to put it to good use. While the concept of creating a moving painting came after, Pantoja says the music already had essences of the elements—passages that evoke fluidity of water, or stability of metal.

From this concept, Pantoja wrote the show, and artist Kelsey Sweet was brought on board as a co-producer—her first time producing a show, Sweet says. Sweet has a background in painting and sculpture, and has only recently explored performance art. Creative community projects are also the focus of her in-progress master’s degree.

The show employs an abundance of black material, neon paint, colorful bodysuits and black lights to create the illusion of colors moving and floating independently. It’s a resource-intensive endeavor. Shapiro says that Potentialist shows must “recycle a lot of regular materials,” which usually results in having “a lot more materials to recycle.” Pantoja and Shapiro note that they weren’t even sure if their vision was possible, but set out to experiment with light and materials until they came up with a performance that worked. The audience will be plunged into darkness for the entirety of the show to make the colors appear vividly.

Most Potentialist projects are self-funded by Shapiro and Pantoja. A chance encounter with a cowboy on Thanksgiving led to the sale of one of Pantoja’s paintings, which helped fund the show. Both Shapiro and Pantoja want to demonstrate that it’s possible to make a living as artists, and are in the process of turning their community arts organization Reno Art Works into a non-profit.

The production has a small ensemble of dancers and actors, including Shapiro. Shapiro says his Akido training and masseuse experience played a part in learning how to navigate a puppet.

Pantoja likens the show to a “nature documentary”—if the story of creation “was made in Reno, and made in neon.”

Shapiro agrees that the show is unconventional, but that’s what “makes it worth seeing.” He and Sweet remarked that, although black light performance art isn’t a new concept, it’s never been explored quite like this.

“Things are weird when they’re new,” says Shapiro. He pauses for a brief moment. “I like that quote. ’Things are weird when they’re new.’”