Dance of a Million Pieces engages with philosophical thought and sensory memory to interrogate the essence of the self, its personality and spiritual nature, and the intense and multifaceted nature of life itself. It explores relationships we share with others, and their transient qualities, and how the human condition, emotion, attachment and psychology can become entwined with the difficulty of letting go of those we love. Written and performed by Cary Crankson and Gemma Rogers, with sound design by Rafiel Diogo, this work presents engaging philosophical dichotomies that are close to many of our hearts: the material world and the supernatural realm, love and violence, life and death, illness and health, peace and suffering, and hope and despair.
The dramatic text is a dialogue between Endy, who is in a coma, and her partner, Mion. The text is successful in prompting the mystifying and confused atmosphere of the unconscious realm that we imagine the action to take place in, and it does so through the effective lack of contextual information. It is never made entirely clear, for example, as to whether the voices we hear are Endy’s memories of past conversations; if Mion has somehow ‘astrologically projected’ to meet with Endy in a higher state of consciousness, so to speak; or if the two are, indeed, having a conversation in real time (perhaps we are to imagine that Mion is speaking at Endy’s bedside, and she is replying to him in her mind). The various allusions made throughout the text keep such a context unnoted, nay masked, and this makes for a most intriguing text.
In terms of the writing’s structure, a true sense of plot develops towards the early middle of the dramatic text, with the beginning of the text being fragmented and non-linear, presenting various and seemingly unrelated vignettes of ‘memories’ and speech. I believe this is done with a good recognition of time and its potential effect in alienating the audience too far. Crankson and Rogers have timed it well so as to not lose our interest within the sheer discombobulation caused by the somewhat disparate contents of the text. This is good. Though I do believe this demystification could have been even sooner, it provides sufficient context to better read the rest of the performance.
However, in regard to the writing’s content, quite a bit of improvement could be made. There is a theme of adventure and exploration of natural spaces, and this becomes quite cumbersome and predictable at times. A sense of adventure is rather integral to our reading of Endy’s character and, in particular, to our reading of her spiritual perception of herself, what she views as the journey of her ‘soul’, as it were’, her ‘spirit’ or her ‘essence’. It is, indeed, effective to re-present this theme throughout the text, but perhaps a more creative means could be conceived than a literal adventure up a mountain, or trudging through the snow or braving torrential rain. It simply becomes rather predictable and rather vapid with such repetition.
It is also easy at times to feel as though Endy has no profound feelings towards Mion, that his love for her is unrequited. She seems to have adopted a wise and spiritual mentality in her coma, and any expressions of her difficulty in leaving him are replaced with reasons as to why she must go. Whilst she communicates the memories she has with Mion and how she felt with him at those times, this can easily be interpreted as merely part of her worldly and sagacious perspective on life, which is presented not as something new she has acquired in her coma but as something integral to her view on life. More specificity in expressions of Mion’s feelings, and a direct communication about her passing and its effects on their relationship might enable the theme of ‘letting go’ to be further elucidated. As it stands, there is an element of coldness that is simply gradually digested and reluctantly understood by Mion, which seems unrealistic considering how explosive and dramatic he has been for a good part of the text, barricading himself into the room with her, denigrating the hospital system… More development is needed in the way the two come to terms with Endy’s passing if the piece’s content is to better match its intention.
Whilst this friction exists in our reading between the relationship Endy and Mion have now vs what their relationship has been thus far and how it has developed into the former from the latter, the memories of their past that are communicated ground us well to understand their relation to one another. Mion’s speech is very staccato and short compared to Endy’s, who goes into greater detail about how she is feeling, and this is good considering we are [supposedly] in Endy’s head, experiencing Mion through her experiences and memories of him, and this also enables his actions and words to be illogical and jumbled at times. For a good while from the beginning, we hear only Mion, as though we are hearing an array of audio clips from Endy’s memory of him, and this is successful in pretexting and framing their relationship and the contents of the performance.
More superficially there is the symbolism in the characters’ names: Endy and Mion, are a subtle and unmarked reference to the Greek myth of shepherd (or king, in some myths) Endymion who, in some versions of the myth, was kept sleeping by Zeus’s powers by Selene’s request. Selene is said to have obsessed over his physical appearance, watching over his body every night whilst he slept. This relates rather well to this text wherein Endy is kept alive in her coma by a persistent and desperate Mion, despite Endy’s family’s efforts to ‘pull the plug’, as it were. Additionally, though perhaps this was an unconscious artistic decision here, this myth, like many others, has various different tellings — of course, there’s the version noted above, where Selene’s impassioned mania leads her to request Endymion’s eternal sleep, but then in other versions, Zeus grants Endymion his own personal wish for perpetual sleep, for he is both lazy or wishes to remain youthful forever. In yet other versions, the spell is a punishment from Zeus for sleeping with his wife, Hera. This multiplicity relates extremely well to the multiverse theory offered in the dramatic text, and the theme of self-perpetuation and the eternalisation of youth relates nicely with Endy’s concern with having enough time to find all of the multiple aspects of herself and her true ‘essence’ and how to make the most of the life she has. So, at first glance, this naming of the characters seems rather corny, but it is, in fact, a very intelligent decision.
As for acting, Crankson and Rogers deliver a good vocal performance, overall. Emotion and feeling are made adequately clear in tone and general delivery; however, there is a slight lack of naturalism in certain scenes [note the difference between what is realistic and what is naturalistic]. Moments of tension between the characters, in particular, could be stronger and snappier, but, overall, when the actors perform their monologues, delivery is strong.
The second most important aspect of this piece is the visuals (also by Crankson) we are presented with. As for these, I find a similar issue to that I found with the writing’s content. For a good while from the start, the images are more implicit and stand-alone and serve to contextualise the dialogue; for example, we have no explicit reference to a hospital or Endy and Mion’s situation, and the images of X-Rays, hospital corridors, hands intertwined, a beating heart, combined with the sounds of an ECG, all take us to the scene immediately and effectively. Yet, as the text progresses, the images become exact evocations from the characters’ speech. The word ‘rain’ and we see ‘rain’, the word ‘bar’ and we see a bar, the word ‘jungle’ and we see a jungle…the images become too literal and obvious, and the performance loses its escapist and hallucinatory qualities. It is easy to feel disengaged at times for this reason and to just wait to see what images of ‘watching a sunset’ might come up as a literal representation.
I have two principal issues with the images, however. The first is the lack of coherent style uniting them all. We see a mixture of CGI animation, still photography and live action footage, and the overall aesthetic of the performance becomes quickly confused. It begins to feel, especially noting what I have in the previous paragraph, as though Crankson was simply grabbing whatever stock footage he could find without little thought to how they might appear when combined all together. But the second and more irking issue is the inclusion of footage presenting random individuals throughout. One could argue that having so many figures and faces helps to depersonalise the images to such a degree where the figures start to represent the human as opposed to the individuals shot in the footage themselves. However, I would argue that a better way to present these images would be to include footage of silhouettes, shadows and such nondescript figures; this would allow us to project what we imagine of Endy and Mion onto the figures we see whilst allowing for our transportation to the spaces desired by the text. Including so many different people just alienates the images from the characters in the text; we need the focus to remain exclusively on Endy and Mion, and this cannot be achieved whilst we see tens of others. This is without mentioning the potential ethical debate to be had on the bizarre cultural appropriation towards the beginning of the text, which really has nothing to do with the text itself, used in unethical error along with Mion’s meditative humming and throat singing. I imagine this was to create a sense of the otherworldly and the spiritual… I would ask the creatives to do some research into orientalism, particularly where Asia is concerned.
I would also note that it is perfectly acceptable to include moments where we see nothing, just a simple dark screen –– something that one would comprehend as the potential experience of a comatose patient. This would break up the series of images, and perhaps the ‘scenes’, both giving us an occasional, well-earned break from the chaos of Endy’s mind and limiting what becomes, at times, an unnecessary constancy of images.
I should stress, however, that the idea of the images –– and, indeed, a great number of those presented –– are very good in capturing the fleeting, hallucinatory realm of the [partially] unconscious, even if they do cause the performance to veer closer towards film than theatre… Depending on how this is executed on a theatrical site, I am not sure how many audiences one could keep with just the projections of images and the sound of two people’s voices in this way.
As for the sound design, this is very strong. The subtle constancy of sound effects and music is very effective and definitely evocative of the semi-lucid state most of us have experienced when half-falling asleep or in pain-induced delirium, etc. The violence of the sound effects — those of rain, explosions — paired with the calmer cracklings of fire and the tweeting of birds makes for a design of depth and dynamism. I have some difficulty with the echoes applied to the actors’ voices at times, however. For the majority of the performance, there is no issue, and it is actually very atmospheric and powerful, but it does sound at times as though simply a bad recording, picking up the echoes of the room, as opposed to the voices echoing themselves. The echo needs to be a lot crisper in these moments, in other words, without the general background noise we can hear from time to time and with slightly less reverberation. I was disappointed that the binaural technology was not better used as well; the effects of this would have been very fruitful for this performance.
Overall, this is a very effective performance born intelligently from the times we find ourselves in currently. It reflects elegantly upon mortality and fear and upon the larger, unfathomable aspects of our existence, and upon subjects of more intrinsic value than the material and the generic. It does so through a very articulate, intriguing and philosophical postmodernist lens, with an emphasis on the self and its spirit. In presenting only two characters, it focuses this ‘self-centred’ philosophy onto the relationship between the self and the other in a most riveting way.