Evangeline (Or, the grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break) is inspired by the journey of grief. Director Chenoeh Miller opens her piece with powerful words: “Grief comes at us from all directions, it can be totally overwhelming [and] only with time do we open up to the world again, see kind people who remind us who we were before sadness seeped in”.
It is not an easy piece to sit through; at times overwhelming, unpredictable and frightening. It's everything that grief is in reality. And in this way, Evangeline is brilliantly executed.
Clad in white body paint typical of Butoh, a style of Japanese dance and physical theatre, the dancers enter the stage from all directions, eventually surrounding us with grotesque, unsettling expressions. The block lighting contorts their faces further, allowing us to examine the extremes of the human condition perpetuated by grief – mental illness, atrophy, tangible distress.
Gradually, the dancers become static and make eye contact with us and we are invited to “please touch”, to interact, to be a healing balm for each wounded soul. Though, the audience's interaction with the dancers offers them only momentary comfort, no final resolution. The audience walk away heavy and perhaps a little unsure of what help we could really offer, and this seems slightly antithetical to Miller’s original intention.
Evangeline is a powerful exploration of a very difficult topic – the ugliness of life and people’s decisions.