Some of the most needed, most missed live shows that couldn’t happen during the pandemic are still just beginning to reemerge: intimate, sensitive, poetic dance and performance art pieces that offer dreamlike, thought-provoking artistic interpretations of how we deal with grief, isolation and change.
“Believe” by Hartford-based actor/director Joni Weisfeld’s The Other Voice theater company is ostensibly about the COVID era, how people were affected by it and how they got through it. But it’s more general, more universal than that. It’s about finding things to believe in during difficult, unpredictable times.
Weisfeld founded The Other Voice a couple of years before COVID happened, and the company’s style of nonverbal, movement-oriented theater is ideal for the sort of topics the pandemic forced us to face.
There are three local performers: Alisa Nipp (originally from California, and trained in ballet), Victoria Jaenson (a Ugandan dancer who has studied at the Hartt School and worked in this area with Ballet Theatre Company and Dimensional Dance) and Missy Burmeister (who teaches at Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts). Some dance more, some act more, all do both. None of them talk, though they sometimes make other sounds like laughter and chanting and grunting and especially breathing.
There’s a makeshift shrine of wires, sound equipment, machines, cords in the center of the room. Thirty chairs for the small audience circle the main playing area. The performers spend a lot of time within that circle, but also move around the entire chapel. They stand at the pulpit. They clamber onto the sills of stained glass windows. Sometimes they are still. Sometimes they act out with ferocity. Burmeister unleashes a wild laugh that becomes a sob, to which the audience naturally responds with nervous laughter of its own.
There’s a choreographed routine with cell phones. Some of the props are purposefully distracting and disorienting, like fresh characters in the show meant to disrupt.
Besides their movements, there are projections of the performers individually doing basic repetitive things like gardening. Other projections are abstract, amoeba-like, which suits “Believe”'s more psychedelic moments.
There are silent vignettes about communication, separation, reflection, anguish, spiritual longing and communion. A whole lot of other actions and emotions are covered as well, all in a mere 35 minutes. You get to witness an intense yet graceful physical and emotional workout, after which you can reflect upon it without feeling overwhelmed.
We need more work like “Believe” to help us figure out the world, focus our feelings and amuse and entertain us. This warm up-close silent dance/drama finds faith in a church, but also in art.
The Other Voice’s “Believe” runs through Aug. 13 at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave., Hartford. Performances are Friday and Saturday at both 7 and 9 p.m. Masks required. Free. theothervoicetheater.com.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.