Sunday, May 1, 2016

Review: Butterfly, It Will Affect You

by Kaila M. Stokes

When you hear the words “wordless piece of theater” in 2016 it can be a little off putting and make you hesitant to attend. I am here to tell you that you should run not walk to see 59E59’s Butterfly part of their Brits Off Broadway run of shows. This haunting dance-theater piece hits all of the emotional buttons that you want as an audience member. Butterfly is created and directed by Ramesh Meyyappan. The direction was very precise yet still felt organic and instinctual. There was never a forced moment or rushed scene, even though it would have been very easy to do since it is wordless. Movement and breath move the story forward from beginning to end. It is clear that endless hours of rehearsal went into making this piece natural.
The story of Butterfly is inspired by Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long. It is the dark and thought-provoking tale of a kite-maker (Naomi Livingstone) that has an admirer, a client (Chris Alexander), that brings her gifts. Yet the kite-maker falls in love with a butterfly catcher (Ramesh Meyyappan). Their relationship turns south even after the kite-maker tries to adapt to the butterfly catchers way of life and the client refuses to let their relationship end. She is left traumatized in the darkness of her own reality and the reality that the butterfly catcher land he client left behind for her to wither away in. Naomi Livingstone (Kite-maker) was so focused and based in reality that as an audience member you were routing for her. She transformed from a simple kite-maker into a beautiful butterfly that was condemned to be caught and displayed for another’s liking. Naomi’s movement is the only way the audience knew about the events occurring on stage. Without her, the story would have been stagnant. But it wasn’t, it was physically inspiring and emotionally jarring to watch what her character went through. The expressions on her face and the change in her physicality let us know the pain that she was enduring. Ramesh Mayyappan (Butterfly catcher) and Chris Alexander (Client) turn her world upside down in very different, but extreme ways. Ramesh and Chris are their characters of course, but also act as prop and set facilitators. Their parts were less about conveying emotion and more about driving the plot and show through the set and props. After the kite-maker’s world has been turned upside down and she is left with nothing, Ramesh and Chris come back as puppeteers. This was more than impressive and visually striking as you can see in this photo. They work on one puppet together. They were so in sync and in tune with one another’s movements, it was like they were Siamese twins that have been living this way their whole lives. The puppet itself is quite creepy, on purpose of course. This added to the disturbing nature of the story.
The transitions are done through music and lighting. The first scene was quite long for set up purposes and the music was repetitive for the first fifteen minutes. I would have liked to break up that portion of the music. The music held back this portion of the piece because you were very aware that it was the same bars over and over again. After the characters, relationships and plot were set in motion, the music pushed the show along in a fluid and beautiful way. The actors were as connected to one another and their breath as they were the music. The lighting was minimal and dark; it was almost unnoticeable at times where it could have changed. It may have been a choice to be so minimalistic with lighting, but the music changed with scenes to progress the story and identify different moments and so the lighting should have as well. It seemed to stay the same. It would have added to the beautiful performance if there was a transformation with the lighting as there was with the characters since it starts out light and fluffy and turns into such a dramatic and intense piece.
In the end the captured becomes the capturer and is emotionally ripped apart and gutted by the events in her life. The ending was not inspiring, not up lifting, it did not make you want to be a better person and it was certainly not was real. Butterfly is symbolic of many people’s lives that get caught in the cog of life events. It makes you think, I highly suggest taking an hour out of your evening to see this one of kind dance-theater piece.