FRINGE REVIEW: Black Wood (Gunnar Montana Productions, Philadelphia)
The Delightfully Macabre Dance Show is a Great Way to Get Into the Halloween Spirit.
Dance is one of the most expressive means of storytelling. The ability to portray emotion and action with just a dancer's body is a truly inspiring thing to watch. When that ability of movement is paired with exceptional creativity and skill, it creates an unforgettable experience for audiences. Gunnar Montana Productions is a Philadelphia Fringe Festival staple, using dance to craft themed productions that marry the world of dance and burlesque together to delight (and occasionally horrify) audiences. Gunnar Montana and the cast of Black Wood have cultivated a show that is visually stunning, occasionally macabre, and packed with unforgettable moments.
These Witches Mean Business
The story at the center of this dance show is a relatively simple one: A coven of witches comes together for ritual sacrifices, while also protecting and supporting each other. The show's narrative flows seamlessly from one sequence to another that never feels too forced or confusing. Rightfully, Montana does provide content warnings that one of the sequences revolves around domestic violence, giving the audience time to prepare for the intensity of these scenes. (Content warnings are a wonderful thing, and should be the standard among performances today.)
Montana utilizes his company of dancers to their full effect. Each dancer is able to fully express their individual characters, and what their quirks are exceptionally. The dancers work so beautifully as a company (and a coven) that it elevates the story they are telling. You could feel the wants and needs of these witches; you can feel the fear in some of these men, as they are toyed with or fought. It is wonderfully effective and heightens the evening's performance.
The choreography is stunning from start to finish, a beautiful mesh of classic lines, intense physicality and a dash of circus and burlesque. Each sequence of dance marries perfectly with the music chosen. Haunting and evocative, the songs act as a narrative aid without feeling too on the nose. The pair of visuals and music, combined with the performers and choreography all mesh together into a strikingly wonderful show. There are some truly breathtaking stage images, that should be seen to be believed.
A Fully Immersive Experience.
One of the many great things about Black Wood is the set. Designed by Chris Haig, it fully immerses the audience in the world of these witches. Upon entering, the audience is brought through an eerie, mood-setting pathway to the stage and playing space for the dancers. What is rendered in the space is gorgeous and extremely detailed. Pieces of set move in ways you don't expect them to, and the dancers interact with the set in creative ways that are equally as surprising.
This show is fantastic from creepy start to satisfying and strikingly beautiful ending. Montana and the dancers fully embrace the world of the coven and these witches, bringing the audience on an intense, gorgeous story of sisterhood, magic, survival, and sensuality. It does deal with some issues of violence and abuse, as well as showcasing some mild nudity, but both are integral to the story, and handled with care. Black Wood is one hell of a show, that is perfect for adults as the Halloween season descends upon us.
Black Wood is playing at
The Latvian Society (531 N. 7th St.)
from now until October 31st, 2023.
Tickets and more information can be found at www.gunnarmontana.com.
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