Scientific dance mash up

COLLAPSE (suddenly falling down)

Bruising for her art.

Bruising for her art.

Rated 4.0

Eight months ago, director/choreographer Della Davidson began creating COLLAPSE (suddenly falling down), a complex multimedia piece about societies that exhaust their environmental resources, spin out of control and disintegrate.

Davidson couldn’t anticipate that, as COLLAPSE premiered in October, half-a-million Southern Californians would evacuate from hillside homes due to wildfires that firefighters suddenly found themselves almost powerless to control. It just makes this “big idea” production that much more immediate and topical.

COLLAPSE is about as unusual an effort as you’ll see: The performance is full of stylized movement that could be described as modern dance or “physical theater.” And superimposed above the eight performers are moving images from 3-D lidar scans, generated by advanced computer systems in the Earth Sciences department at UC Davis, depicting landslide damage, a huge house-eating sinkhole, and a reservoir drained by catastrophic dam failure.

There’s also scripted, spoken dialogue, and mood-enhancing original music by two composers (heavy on electronics).

Towers and walls made of stacked cardboard boxes dominate the stage—there are more than 350 of them that tremble and topple (loudly) in several scenes. And of course, the production has lighting and costume designers and such.

Part of the show’s intrigue is the group of geophysicists, software engineers and others from the “tech side” of UC Davis who collaborated in what remains a largely dance-based piece.

What unfolds on stage is closer to a series of related panels than a tightly integrated whole. The dramatic scenes with actors tell a story—by turns humorous and apocalyptic—about a man and woman who appear to be the only survivors on Easter Island, debating whether or not to cut down the one remaining tree. They’re visited by a scientist with video equipment, documenting their imperiled society.

Woven throughout are dance scenes, not strictly related to the spoken parts. The dancers leap to their feet, or dangle, and then collapse and fall—sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. You’ll probably never attend a performance where the cast hits the floor more frequently, in so many different ways.

The music is gloomy, apprehensive, sometimes throbbing, sometimes mournful. And the 3-D projections (in black and white) are fascinating, and sometimes dominate by their sheer size.

The overall effect? We’re not being dodgy, but it’s hard to describe. COLLAPSE is sufficiently beyond the usual boundaries that several conventional rules of reviewing don’t apply. But it’s an absorbing, multilayered 90-minute experience, which will generate ideas in your head long after you leave the theater.