The Paper Industry at Incubator Arts Project

Saturday night took us to the Incubator Arts Project to check out The Paper Industry’s latest, Apologies (and other grey areas) – the conclusion of The Paper Industry’s “ugly opera” trilogy. I know I saw the second one, Sine Wave Goodbye, can’t remember if I saw the first one, Building A House Out Of Feathers.

Apologies continues this young company’s exploration of the ideas of physics through dance-theater, this one starting from the ideas of “Schrodinger’s Cat” and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Heady stuff, could have been plodding and unbearable. Fortunately it isn’t.

The show actually starts with the sound of stomping. The house lights are on, everybody’s chatting, and then there is this loud “stomp stomp stomp” from behind a wall of stripes and mirrors. House lights go down, actor enters. Dialogue begins. The program doesn’t specify which actor plays which character, but according to the Incubator website the two characters are named Erwin and Werner. They are, mostly, seated at a table on a platform downstage right, speaking into microphones in a series of whimsical, elliptical exchanges about the nature of existence, memory and beginnings. From behind the wall we hear the ensemble of dancers moving. Over the course of the show the wall, beautifully designed by by Andreea Mincic, slowly gets deconstructed. The dancers, originally uniformly clad in what appear to be white sterile suits, change into street clothes one at a time. The dancers are all young women, the actors (and the only people who speak) are the two young men in the front. The whole thing is tied together with a continuous score of pulsing electronic loops created by composers Carter Matschullat & Hard Mix.

I think the wall being deconstructed and the gradual transformation/individuation of the dancers is meant to reference a state of becoming facilitated by philosophical inquiry. Director Jamie Peterson is playing with a lot of ideas and some of them seem to be addressed more obviously than others (cue the pretty funny “cat person” joke).

One of the things that I’ve always liked about The Paper Industry is the integration of music into the work, and Apologies does not disappoint – the music, movement, dialogue, set and lighting all work together beautifully. The rhythms of the whimsical dialogue seem to reference the loops of the music, which reflect the movement vocabulary of the dancers and the modularity of the set. The show unfolds seamlessly, moving smoothly from dialogue to dance and back. This is the show’s strength and its weakness. Apologies sets out at this kind of mid-tempo groove and keeps moving smoothly towards its conclusion. While the set is deconstructed and the dancers change in appearance, there isn’t a whole lot of variation. It kind of all happens at the same level. I’m conflicted – part of me was perfectly content to just go with it and part of me wanted a little more variation, a little more sense of forward motion.

As I’ve said before, The Paper Industry are definitely a young company to watch, and Apologies is another big step forward for them. Compared to many other companies at roughly the same career point, they’ve got a refined, focused, distinct aesthetic that sets them apart. Their performers are all strong and their production values are high; the writing gets stronger with each show. Now that they’ve completed the “ugly opera” trilogy I’m curious to see what they will tackle next, conceptually and where their imaginations will take them.

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