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In Loom Lab’s ‘Persephone,’ talk bogs down a terrifying journey

May 7, 2018 GMT

In Loom Lab’s dance-theater production “Persephone,” dancers embody the experience of one woman’s mental illness, creating a visual representation of a mind in crisis.

The piece was presented at Off-Leash Area’s new space, the Art Box in south Minneapolis, and has echoes of OLA’s powerful work, “Maggie’s Brain,” which was presented in 2006 and 2013, and similarly explored mental illness through performance and movement.

Loom Lab’s piece, first devised for the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2017, was directed by Mariah Larkin with choreography by Torre Edahl. It had some compelling nuggets, but was weighed down by its tendency to tell rather than show.

The story centers on a young woman named Persephone, played by Jasmine Porter. She struggles with mental illness but is lucky to have loved ones and a therapist who support and care for her. Persephone spends a lot of time explaining her illness to those close to her, which seems like a missed opportunity. The sections of the piece that provide a transformational treatment of the material, through movement and abstraction, create a more immersive experience for the audience.

For the dance sections, the movement is born out of the characterizations of the performers. The therapist, played by Julia Winkels, floats, her arms circling in comforting spirals. The performer personifying Persephone’s mental illness, meanwhile, played by Crissy Tolson, moves in wiry jerks, her whole body suspended in tension. Tolson’s performance at times is downright terrifying.

A quick reminder of the Persephone myth: Persephone was brought up cloistered by her mother, Demeter, but despite this overprotection is kidnapped anyway by Hades, the god of the underworld, and is subsequently raped. Demeter, in protest, spreads winter across the world, so Zeus tells Hades he has to free Persephone. The plot twist is that Persephone already ate the food of the underworld, so though she is freed, she has to go back to the underworld several months out of the year for eternity.

Persephone’s journey in Loom Lab’s production echoes the Greek story. A victim of a traumatic incident, Persephone is never truly freed from what happened, instead suffering severe post-traumatic stress long afterward. Loom Lab handles this difficult material admirably. Rather than acting out a rape on stage, we see an expressive realization of Persephone’s inner experience. This treatment is gut-wrenching but doesn’t feel exploitive.

Unfortunately, the naturalistic scenes don’t hold up to the more heightened sections. The text lags, and Persephone’s arc is muddied in exposition and explanation. In fact, the piece flows much more vibrantly when the cast speaks as a chorus, using poetic language. A balance between the show’s realism and theatrical dance sequences would serve the overall arc.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.