The North Project

Local Arts Reviews

The North Project

Blue Theater, through Nov. 22 Running time: varies

What is the North? First of all, it's not North as in North Texas or North as in Maine or Minnesota, or even those parts of Canada you see from time to time channel-surfing past hockey games, rodeos, and Cirque de Soleil documentaries. To imagine the North in question, you must think beyond the last outpost. The North above the 60th parallel is distant, cold, lonely. And beautiful, in ways majestic and haunting. As conceived and curated by local theatre genius Ron Berry and his talented friends of the Refraction Arts Project, who have turned the Blue Theater into their own fascinating vision of the North, this art installation with film and performance finds intricate, intimate connections to be made in lands of perpetual darkness (or perpetual sunlight) where the wind whips the clouds down to the earth, alternately obscuring and revealing jagged mountains or seaside fishing villages.

The North of Berry and company's creative imagination (and worldwide research -- the project has spawned e-mail relationships with folks as far afield as Finland) overwhelms the Blue Theater. Gone is the usual foyer/stage/audience setup. Instead, the entire interior has been transformed into a white, snowed-under tundra, with an amazing array of multimedia effects, live performers, a brilliant soundscape (by Eliot Haynes), and moments real and imagined, all inspired by the frozen lands and the people that live there. From the moment the audience opens the door, it is transported into a wildly different world. Even the box office is disorienting, a lovely face and an occasional disembodied hand all that is visible of the staff in the all-white room. Pass through another door and through a dark and eerie tunnel of sounds, then marvel as the space opens up to reveal, all in one dizzying blast: dancers in hypnotically slow, Butoh-like movement dwarfed by sheer walls of white; a 15-foot-high time-lapse film of a Finnish town in perpetual transition from day to night and back again; a clapboard cantina, the last outpost itself, wherein Yuri tends bar, serving up classic Northern fare (in the wacky imaginings of the artists, that means Canadian whiskey and Coke, or Budweiser); Alton, who sits inside the cantina, going through the mail he receives when the postman delivers it on a semiannual visit to this remote place.

Beyond the initial impact of film and dancers and cantina and its denizens are various nooks of the theatre where a wandering audience may find still more installations. These include the tragic last diary entries of Robert Scott's final, doomed expedition to that other frozen Pole (the South Pole), typed on little strips of paper and stuffed into small evidentiary vials or posted on a wall outside a claustrophobic room that houses a manual typewriter -- the audience may use it to type its own final messages, which it may then post on the wall. You can watch various monitors around the room -- televisions with close-ups of typewriters tapping Scott's sad conclusion, a projection screen with a slide show of images of Northern geography -- or, in another part of the building, ascend the stairs, pop on the headphones, peer through a window past a snowy emptiness to a distant wall, and listen to people who lived in the North speak of their attempts to come to terms with that hard life.

No amount of description here can hope to duplicate the immersion one feels in this amazing installation. A suggestion: Go alone. Or if you're with friends, leave them and traipse about on an individual explorative journey. It will give you a truer experience of the isolation, the mystery, and the ethereal and unnerving beauty of the North.

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The North Project, Ron Berry, Refraction Arts Project, Blue Theater, Eliot Haynes

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