New York-based dance theatre group, Pilobolus, are currently touring their internationally loved production of Shadowland through metropolitan Australia. Mark Fucik, director of the company and original cast member of Shadowland, took the time to answer our questions about the show and why the company decided to blend the artistry of dance and shadow theatre into one performance. In this interview, he explains the story of the show and how it came to be, and imparts his knowledge on why it is important to break dance convention and invent new concepts to keep artists and audiences amused.
Please explain the story of Shadowland.
A girl is playing in her bedroom at night and pretends to be grown up. Her parents find her and she’s ashamed to be watched. She goes to sleep and enters into a surreal dream-world. As she tries to understand how things work in this new world, she encounters comic, scary, and sexy creatures. Suddenly she’s half girl, half puppy, and she’s laughed at and chased wherever she goes. Only facing an amalgam of all of her fears will deliver her from the bad dream and awaken her in a happier world.
Why is Pilobolus bringing Shadowland to Australia?
Shadowland is a story about the surreal, scary, and thrilling parts of growing up, which is a universal experience that people all over the world relate to in one way or another. Flying literally as far from New York as we can and sharing the story with people on the other side of the earth is our highest touring achievement and honestly a testament to our common humanity.
How is the art form of dance enhanced by shadow theatricality?
It’s very hard to tell an intricate story without using words. When we started playing with shadow theatre 10 years ago, we discovered that we could use the form to tell longer, more engaging stories than we could with pure dance. Shadows create vivid 2D images that are quite memorable and iconic. They’re great for creating illusions, and they always put audiences in awe. It’s a playful, childlike art form – useful for telling universal stories.
What is the merit in breaking dance convention and trying new things, like in Shadowland? Is dance the same as straight theatre and musical theatre, constantly needing to reinvent and modernise to stay relevant?
If we had a motto it could be “we invent, therefore we are”. At Pilobolus, we are interested in creating new things all the time. It’s not an effort to stay cool and relevant but more an interest in keeping ourselves intrigued and amused. Since the company’s founding 45 years ago, it’s never been a part of dance convention. Our founders were not classically trained dancers; they just made new things up every day. I think that ingenuity has had a big part of the company’s global success. It’s a spirit and practice that all of us are proud to be a part of and apply to all the new cool things we find to play with in today’s world.
Shadowland looks like an incredibly intricate, technical show, what are the challenges of touring a show like this and performing it in different venues?
If you think it looks technically intricate from in front of the stage, imagine that it’s 5 times more complicated backstage! There are hundreds of different moving pieces, and everything has to be in the right place at the right moment or the magic fails – before, during, and after performances. Every venue is different, too. We handle it by having a world-class production team that takes care of everything you can think of, and everything you can’t think of, too.
How did Pilobolus create and act on the Shadowland concept? How did the show come together, and how long did it take to develop?
Pilobolus creates everything in a group of collaborating directors, artists, and dancers, and this show was no exception. I was in the original cast. All of us dancers would experiment with new movement ideas and a group of four Pilobolus directors would guide us, rather than just telling us what to do. We worked for about 9 months in the studio. Our early audiences helped us develop it even more once we took it on the road. The brilliant writer and performer, Steven Banks, who was the head writer for the clever cartoon SpongeBob Square Pants, and the genius composer, performer, and singer David Poe were with us most of the time, helping us shape the story and bring the story’s world to life.
What do you hope audiences take away from Shadowland?
We hope everyone has their own unique experience – there’s no correct takeaway. In general we hope audiences are inspired, entertained, uplifted – that they go somewhere they haven’t been before.
Shadowland opens in Brisbane on 23 August, with subsequent seasons in Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide. More information including ticketing resources can be found at this link.