Magical realism

A Dream Inside Another

Rated 4.0

A Dream Inside Another is all about the collaborative spirit. This presentation of three of Isabel Allende’s short stories is a collaboration of movement, dance and theater. It’s also a collaboration by two distinct and unique performance groups, UC Davis’ Sideshow Physical Theatre Company and Santa Fe’s Theater Grottesco.

The partnership between the two performance groups began after Sideshow’s artistic director, Della Davidson, caught a production of John Flax’s Theater Grottesco in Santa Fe and found a kindred spirit. According to the production notes, Davidson was looking for a theater troupe to help her dancers expand their repertoire, and Flax, trained in physical theater, was interested in pushing the acting envelope.

After an experimental week of improvisation, in which dancers acted and actors danced, they were hungry for more and discovered Allende’s magical realism could be used effectively to blend the two disciplines. A Dream Inside Another is a trio of Allende stories: “Wicked Girl” explores a young girl’s sexuality, “Tosca” tells the tale of a woman’s tragic love of opera, and “The Little Heidelberg” deals with unspoken love.

The result is a mesmerizing blend of theater, art, dance, movement and multimedia presentation. It’s visually arresting, both in production and in presentation, with imaginative staging, colorful costumes, inventive physical movements and nonlinear storytelling. The production takes full advantage of the Mondavi Center’s Studio Theatre. With the high ceilings and open stage, it feels both intimate and expansive at the same time. Along with the troupe, whose members are ever moving, the staging is also fluid, with traveling curtains, chairs, staircases and short film segments.

The cast, which collaborated not only in performance but also in the development of the work, is able to project emotions while delivering Davidson’s intricate and intriguing dance movements. It’s also refreshing to see a dance troupe that represents all shapes, sizes and ages.

However, though the production is compelling, it’s also frustrating. It’s best to approach the performance as the two troupes do—as a work in progress. It’s difficult enough to follow Allende’s plots told in such an avant-garde style, but the three stories have been chopped up so they aren’t linear. In addition, Allende’s writing has such a lyrical quality, it’s a shame that it’s not showcased more. Further workshops are sure to iron out such kinks.

To continue the collaborative spirit, the dual-company production will travel to Santa Fe in August, where it will run at Flax’s Theater Grottesco.