Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

Heaven – Off Broadway Theater Review 




picture - HeavenTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published November 1, 2009



recently played at PS 122

closed October 30


If one is to walk away with any kind of understanding from attending acclaimed choreographer Morgan Thorson's Heaven,  it's that Thorson does not have a strong or clear point of view about it.  There are scattered bits and pieces of the show that suggest both reverence and disdain for religion, but none of them can be stitched together to create a cohesive presentation.  And at a tedious 75 minutes, this experimental ensemble work could use some linear structure even if its genre defies it.


Not that Heaven is a one-trick pony.  Going from frantic choreography to rock song to lovely choral arrangement, the performance is certainly multi-dimensional.  Yet, you wouldn't know that from the  opening sequences. Before the audience is seated, the cast, outfitted in Emmett Ramstad's textured beige and white costumes that defy gender constraints, treads the boundaries of the stage in small, calculated steps with their heads slightly lowered in unison.   The spectacle is attractive until the show begins and this format doesn't relent for another fifteen minutes, and only marginally.  It's a slow, uncomfortable start that throughout the course of the dance you may interpret as a comment on the penitent, but that's only if you recover from the labored pacing and your boredom.


Boredom intermingles with confusion when the walkers start to break off one by one in tentative movements.  Some break off in twos, functioning as mirror images as they perform Morson's often crude choreography. It is here that the stark white coloring of the set becomes even more conspicuous against the sparkly strands of glass suspended from the ceiling.  The strands, reminiscent of beaded curtains from the 70s, almost have a hypnotic effect, and are perhaps a remark about the trance-like state of the religious.  The dueling dancers appear to be as one religious person mimics another, unable to think for themselves but falling into a robot-like pattern.


If Heaven were wholly anti-religious, many of the elements would make sense.  There are monotonous and violent repetitions in the choreography that suggest oppression.  But the music of Low, the band that composed the soundtrack (and, strangely, also participate as dancers), morph from peaceful melodies that would do a relaxation tape justice to lyrics like “ I don't want to be there when you find out.” As quickly as you take note of a segment that aspires to perfection, another follows to imply that there is no such thing as perfection.  And the soothing, calmer parts of the music, usually the forte of this band, are agonizing in prolonged doses.


Also hard to swallow is the performance of the troupe.  As the dancing becomes more animated, it appears that they believe less in what they're doing.  The protagonist changes when the soloist does, but investment in their mission, which remains indeterminable, never transfers over.  One minute, a voice reads from the Book of Life and the performers answer to their names.  In another instance where Thorson's choreography is at its best, a searchlight from above looks for the bodies that it means to claim, but try as she may, the dancer that throws her body into its path can't seem to stay in it.  But the dancers only deserve part of the blame.  It's hard to be committed when they are given conflicting material to work with.


If, as Thorson says, religion creates “barriers and lies,” Heaven is not a successfully thorough representation of that.  There are hints of this, but because the opposite view is also presented, her show is as hazy as the hazer used to demonstrate the confusion that she thinks religion promotes.  Tack on an atmosphere that feeds more into ennui than excitement, and the audience is left with an impersonation of hell instead.


cindypierre @


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