Jennie MaryTai Liu, Leslie Cuyjet, and Sean Donovan
in Soul Leaves Her Body
(© Ray Sun)
Jennie MaryTai Liu, Leslie Cuyjet, and Sean Donovan
in Soul Leaves Her Body
(© Ray Sun)
Peter Flaherty and Jennie MaryTai Liu's ambitious multimedia dance theater work, Soul Leaves Her Body, now at HERE Arts Center, draws inspiration from a 13th-century Chinese story dealing with the relationship between the intangible soul and the physical body.

The intermissionless piece attempts to bridge the gap between the past and present through dance, theater, and film projected onto an inventive set piece that doubles as a screen. At it's best -- such as when a woman being chased happens upon her old building and gets buzzed in just as the image disappears, and suddenly, we find her standing before us on stage -- the show touches on the potential for an exciting relationship between video and theater: how the strengths of one can illuminate the other and vice versa.

However, Flaherty and Liu (who also plays the central character, Yan Yan) can't quite consistently find the thread to connect all of the disparate elements, and too often, it's difficult to decipher the characters' dramatic drive and relationship to each other.

The work is most alive when the abstract dialogue is abandoned for Liu's more fluid choreography. In the first of the work's three sections, this comes in spurts between exchanges about forbidden love and ruminations of the body, mind and spirit, and works as a physical manifestation of the frustrations of the characters. In one memorable moment, Liu is dancing downstage, carefree, before being pulled into an entanglement of other dancers. She fights to break free, but is instead swept up into their rhythm.

About halfway in, four large glass panels move to the front of the stage, projecting a film, written and directed by Flaherty, about three children who become orphaned and lose their home. At some point, they are chased by unidentified villains, but the most striking element is the quality of the projections. The images are crisp and massive, enveloping the stage and transporting us to Hong Kong. It's equally striking when the image fades and throws us back to the performers on stage.

The idea of the soul is a confounding mystery that often puts faith and reason at odds, and its existence is the source of countless fascinating discourses. Unfortunately, Soul Leaves Her Body just isn't at the top of that list.