A scene from American dance show Shadowland.
A scene from American dance show Shadowland. QPAC

Shadows back in spotlight thanks to US dance troupe

GROUNDBREAKING American dance troupe Pilobolus brings its shadow-and-light show to Queensland for the first time.

Currently touring the capital cities, the company's Shadowland blends projected images with choreography to create a playful shadow world of creatures.

Expanding on the ancient pastime of hand shadows, the show uses the human form to create everything from elephants to cars and even the Pyramids as shadows projected on to a screen.

The show follows a teenage girl who falls asleep and enters a land of strange and playful creatures.

"She wants to be older than she is. She wants to be doing adult things," dancer Chris Grant told APN.

"When she falls asleep, she soon realises it's a bit tougher on your own than she thought.

"After meeting all of these characters, she finally accepts herself and accepts her parents and realises she still has a lot to learn."

Grant was one of the original Pilobolus dancers who helped create the show, which features a score by composer David Poe, over nine months in 2009.

"We were unsure of what it would be," he said.

"It was one of those things where we were wondering if shadow images would be exciting enough to see for an hour.

"Even now we're continuing to update and evolve it."

The key to the show's inventive visuals, he says, is precision.

"With the shadows, it's either wrong or it's right," he said.

"When we create our elephant image, for example, if something's a little off, it looks weird and distorted.

"It's so unforgiving.

"Then when we bring it to life, we have to make it eat and move so everyone has to be connected and make sure they're moving together. It's one of those skills that takes a while to get."

Behind the screen, dancers are bereft of their ability to use facial expressions to communicate the story.

"In normal life, if you're watching someone on the big screen, there are subtle things they have to do to portray a certain emotion," he said.

"In shadow, you have to exaggerate it. No one can see your features.

"They just see your outline so you have to do these weird things, turn at certain angles that don't make sense but it works with the light."

Although this show has verbal script, lead writer Steven Banks is also the Emmy-nominated head writer for beloved children's show Spongebob Squarepants.

"He has a way of understanding story and how to put a storyline together," Grant said.

"He played a huge role in my acting throughout the show and still does. From time to time, he always gives his input."

The show has taken Grant around the world, including Russia, Brazil, Europe, Mexico and now, finally, Australia.

"It's been great so far," he said. "I had some time to walk around Melbourne and take in the sights.

"We were here last year in Brisbane for a corporate gig, but it felt like we spent more time in the air than in Australia. This time has been great so far."

Shadowland opens at the QPAC Playhouse tonight and runs through Sunday. For more information and tickets, go to http://www.qpac.com.au.


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