Coming-of-age rings clearly in Dandelion Dancetheater’s newest work “Arthur in Underland.”
The dark and sinister dance-play-musical, opening Friday at CounterPulse in The City, is an introspection of real-life events based on Dandelion artistic director Eric Kupers’ adolescence.
“This is one of the most personal and vulnerable pieces I’ve ever done,” Kupers says. “The time of my life that this piece is based on is a very strange, dark, beautiful, horrible period of time. It was a coming out for me on many levels: sexually, spiritually, artistically.”
It’s the 1980s in Berkeley, and naíve bright-eyed Arthur’s interest and involvement with the occult rock-band Powerplay serves as a catalyst for an awakening. Through a host of bizarre characters, the audience follows Arthur on his journey through identity, the need to be accepted, and the desire to come to terms with oneself.
A striking aspect of “Arthur in Underland” is the array of cultural allusions in the text, ranging from Shakespeare and the Matrix to Gilgamesh and King Arthur.
Writer-performer Mantra Plonsey, who plays the sadistic, manipulative demagogue of Underland in the piece, shares her reasoning for including so many references in the dramaturgy: “I chose to draw from several ‘Underworld’ traditions – Tarot for the occult, Shakespeare for tragedy, Alice in her rather disturbing transit through distorted reality, Le Sacre du Printemps for the virgin sacrifice, King Arthur as the champion of right vs. might. All of these have a sort of shadow to them, and I love each of these elements for the sense of their origins in a sort of eternal, infinite past.”
Another key component of Underland is the music. For instance, at one point Arthur learns to play bass from accordionist Lance in a show of subtle sexual invitation. Later Lance stands motionless onstage, while Arthur plays a long song from offstage. The distance between Arthur and Lance, his object of desire, and between Arthur and the Underworld, where he seeks to belong, becomes tangible.
Kupers’ journey as Arthur into his own past is personal and universal. For anyone who has ever gone through a harrowing ordeal, the themes of “Arthur in Underland” ring true.
He says, “Whether or not people relate to the story we're telling specifically, I hope they come with us on the journey into Underland and come out with some new understand, insight, acceptance, or healing – that our exploration of our inner shadows allows audiences to do some exploration of their own.”
IF YOU GO
Arthur in Underland
Presented by Dandelion Dancetheater
Where: CounterPulse, 1310 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays; closes March 18
Tickets: $18 to $ 24
Contact: (415) 626-2060, www.counterpulse.org