Inspired by the impact of chance in everyday life, BalletCollective, an experimental dance group in New York City, collaborated with Sam Leigh (Anamnesis), an award-winning tabletop roleplaying game designer, to create a totally new and unique expression of the medium: a ballet inspired by a TTRPG.
The game that inspired this ballet, The World We Left Behind, is available for free. It’s about explorers making multiple journeys to a deserted planet in order to understand what was left behind and why. You play in four arcs with a deck of playing cards. Sessions of game play inspired the movements and narratives, “musical, structural, and choreographic,” seen on stage this week.
The ballet, presented as part of a program titled “The Moment Is Imminent,” was choreographed by Troy Schumacher with music composed and performed by Phong Tran. Ben Rawson did the lighting, and costumes were styled by Barbara Erin Delo and Troy Schumacher. The dancers were Dominika Afanasenkov, Devin Alberda, David Gabriel, Ruby Lister, Mary Thomas MacKinnon, Kennedy Targosz, and Sebastián Villarini-Vélez. You can watch the ballet below, starting around the 42:00 minute mark.
With bright, retro music that feels reminiscent of an arcade, the dancers’ movements appear just slightly random as they move in circles around the square dance area. Different parts of the floor light up—almost like pips on a die—and dancers are given spotlights to perform.
The first solo highlights a character on an adventure, moving through the space as if searching for something. Two dancers eventually end up on stage; their movements reflections of the other for only a few minutes. One of the remarkable things about this ballet is the way that the choreography reflects happenstance—the movement of people along similar trajectories—while also allowing many of the dancers to perform independently. There are small delays, slight differences, and unexpected movements that speak to the care put into the choreography.
The entire ballet is soaked in a kind of neon futurism; the dancers aren’t moving alongside sweeping choral movements or orchestras, but instead are dancing to lo-fi beats and pinging, ‘80s-inspired electronic music. It’s a very new dissonance that works well with the ideas of gaming, chance, and randomness. Despite the fact that the music is clearly polished and composed, the instruments used allow the score to imitate chance in a very clear way.
Many intervals in the ballet feel like cascades, arcs of traditional movement with moments of iteration that develop across the dancers. Just past the middle of the ballet is a duet, and it feels immediate in a way that contemporary dance often wants to imitate but rarely succeeds at. It’s an intimate, very moving segment of rest as the ballet moves into a dynamic third act.
The final act is more frantic still, as the dancers search for something beyond the boundaries of the stage. The final moments between a pair of dancers feel like reflections across similar trajectories, like two bodies in orbit—suns, or stars, or planets, or people.
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