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San Francisco’s Capacitor flies short

Poor CAPACITOR—forced to perform in the hot, cramped, shabby, and technologically-impoverished American Theatre of Actors at a building with no door sign or number, where management seemed unaware that providing elevator service, air-conditioning, and toilet paper might be reasonable ways to ensure that an audience paying $40 per ticket would feel welcome.

How did science-minded Jodi Lomask and her dancer-acrobats—reportedly, the toast of San Francisco—get themselves into such a mess?

As I sweltered through the nonstop, 85-minute show, my capacity for sympathy melted away. This unfortunate setting for Lomask’s “Digging in the Dark”—a work informed by geophysics—went all too well with its illusion of tunneling down into earth’s molten core. Plus, the show looked like imitation Pilobolus watered down to the point of homeopathy, or the LAVA ensemble with none of its fire, wit, or charm. Even the circus-y aerial bits that we’d looked forward to seeing were few, far between, and gutless.

The piece opened with a surprise—a dancer suspended from the ceiling flew, upside down, above a stage roughly the size of an accessibility ramp. A bungee cord slowly lowered him to the floor while video images of craggy earthscapes and ominously swelling waves slid behind his writhing, half-clothed body. The novelty wore off quickly, never to resurface as Lomask set about advancing her geological theme—a topic of heightened interest back home in the Bay Area—and churned out section after interminable section of Vegas-ready, jazzed-up modern dance, with a dash of acrobatics, set to Noah Thorp’s New Age-y score.

While waiting for the show to start, I made a game of extracting certain words from the program’s “terra itinerary”—as the troupe called its introductory notes—words that proved accurate predictors of CAPACITOR’s motifs and configurations. Dancers would indeed break, bend, fold, move in and out of balance, diverge, collide, slide, twist like taffy, cling stickily, pull apart, liquefy, rise, shift, rotate, melt, circulate, and continue to evolve. On occasion, a helpful voice-over informed us of the finer points of tectonic behavior such as, “The plates grind against each other, and where they find their motion blocked, stress builds up.” If Lomask ever felt tempted to have her dancers mime this particular description, thank God she resisted.

These glossy geologic passages were periodically interrupted by baffling interactions between a kind of postmodern juggler—joylessly bouncing several balls against an amplified platform—and a character with white cones attached to the sides of her head. Like mood rings for the ears, her cones lit up from within; a play of various colors. Once, as she lay on her side, the upturned cone served as a receptacle for the juggler’s balls. I could only conclude that she represented CAPACITOR’s idea of an extraterrestrial animal or clown act. I was not amused.

In the lengthiest aerial number, which occurred about 45 minutes into the work, several dancers synchronized movement patterns and group formations as they rode within and around a globe suspended by a bungee cord. This languorous activity induced in me a narcotic effect matched in speed of onset by the nausea I felt later while following the maneuvers of a dancer hoist aloft in blood-red coils of fabric.

Lomask’s co-performers—all hardworking and presentable—should be held blameless, but “Digging in the Dark,” as art and science, is a failed experiment.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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