Ever since the 15th century, tarot cards have been used for a variety of things, such as entertainment, guide for daily life, meditation enabler and, probably more popularly associated, in telling the future
Not surprisingly, through the imaginative hands and arms and feet of Aura CuriAtlas Physical Theatre, the tarot topic became the product of creativity as seen in the world premiere of “The Fool and the World,“ which took place Saturday in the Kimball Theatre, its open-ended thought-theme, more or less, being life‘s emotional journey.
Aura CuriAtlas was founded five years ago by Joan Gavaler, choreographer of note and professor of dance at the College of William and Mary; Dan Plehal, teacher, performer and director working out of Chicago; and founding member Mickey Lonsdale, teacher and performer in Connecticut.
Aura uses all forms of movement, acrobatics and theatre in presenting innovative takes on life and its happenings and thoughts. It’s a collaborative operation in that its choreographers work with poets, artists, musicians, theatre people, individuals involved in physical movement — any and all people who might have insight and input into helping shape the company‘s many visions.
For “Fool,” the collaborative aspect was evident in its use of an intriguing piano score by talented William and Mary professor Sophia Serghi (theory and composition). In actuality, the collaboration went beyond that to the inspiration behind the score. Serghi worked closely with W&M English professor Nancy Schoenberg, Schoenberg creating the poems and Serghi translating her emotional response to the words into music.
For this performance, Aura used only the piano score. Thus rests a missing link in Aura’s “Fool.” The words that inspired the score went unknown. The program did include the names of the 22 tarot cards in play, along with a few words description of each card. However, in a dark theatre, there was no way to relate the printed word to the music and the movement, despite interesting visual projections of each card.
Prior to the show, Gavaler, Plehal and Lonsdale spoke about the work, urging us to be guided by our own personal insights and feelings concerning the meaning of the cards.
Ultimately, what the cards meant mattered not so much as the creative movement involved. Aura is known for its visual aspect and impact. Every work I’ve seen explores the physical flexibility of the body and the myriad shapes and positions the company devises in relating emotions.
Here, like in many of Aura’s works, the team relied on mime, the concept of climbing up and down and over and under each other, precarious balancing positions, tumbling and exquisite arm and hand gestures. It was another impressive display of the body in fluid motion.
Several of the cards enacted did find some visual resonance such as “Tower‘s” climbing structure crumbled; “Star‘s” lovely unfolding, sweeping fan imagery; “Devil‘s” anguish and agony; “Sun‘s” radiant joy; and “Lovers’” poignant romance.
To each of the 22 brief segments seen, Serghi supplied engaging music. There was, by example, a sense of elegance to the “Empress,” a rolling feeling of lightness to “Chariot,” cheerfulness to “Sun“ and sensuality to “Lovers.”
Following the event, a gimmick of sorts brought three audience members on stage, each of whom drew three cards, which Aura members used for shaping some sort of “future” possibilities. After each, Aura danced out the cards drawn, which allowed them to dance again what was just danced in “Fool.” This became redundant when several of the cards drawn by each were the same, thus more of the same dance, back to back to back, making it an unnecessary, if not awkward, add on.
Bottom line: “Fool” seemed to be a work in progress that didn’t coalesce as completely as some of Aura’s other endeavors. It just seemed not to be in the cards.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."