The curtains drew open to reveal a stark stage, with only a strand of bare bulbs outlining the proscenium arch, and another string of lights to mark an opening in a makeshift wall at the back.
A ballerina wearing a muted pink tutu stood alone upstage, one foot on the floor, the other stretched toward the ceiling. Her large shadow towered above her like an ominous cloud. There was something extravagantly beautiful, yet slightly nightmarish, about this dancer. Her face was painted white and her electric-shock hair (also white) resembled that of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands. She maintained her position, hopping toward the front before turning back upstage and disappearing from view. And with that, it was official: The Mondavi Center audience had been swept up into Oyster—the wondrous world created by Israeli choreographer Inbal Pinto and director Avshalom Pollak, which exists somewhere between a dream and reality.
Throughout the course of the 60-minute performance, the fairly sparse audience was introduced to a cast of oddities, all with the same doll-like makeup and wild hair. What unfolded was a circus-like series of vignettes, overseen by an oversized two-headed man and an orange-haired ballerina with a black turtleneck pulled over her mouth and a stool fastened to her rear.
Various curiosities took turns revealing their talents in the sideshow-style performance. There was a ballerina with an arm the length of her entire body, an armless trio moving in unison and an old woman walking her human pets (i.e., two ballerinas attached to harnesses).
The cast members traversed the stage like marionettes, their movements restricted by an invisible puppeteer. In one vignette, the dancers’ feet and hands were connected by a vibrant red ribbon. They moved rigidly around the stage, showing incredible restraint and control. Then, an old woman severed the ribbon and the dancers collapsed to the floor like a pile of broken bones, as if only the ribbon had been keeping them erect.
After the performance, Pinto and Pollak stuck around to answer questions from the few audience members who stayed on. Pinto explained that the idea for the opening sequence—the ballerina standing on one leg—came from a roommate she had at the American Dance Festival. “My roommate used to tie her leg to the bed to get more flexible,” she said. From there, the idea of a human circus developed. The group incorporates many dance styles (tango, ballet, modern) and types of music (jazz, big-band and throat singing) into the performance; they’re “like sponges absorbing everything.” Well, whether they’re sponges or an oyster, one thing’s for sure: The Inbal Pinto Dance Company has produced a rare delicacy.