Writer/director/choreographer/performer Mandie Reiber set out to capture the emotional complexity of life in the city by interviewing Over-the-Rhine residents about their struggles. The result is Anonymous, a collection of nine true stories of dark desperation told through dance, spoken word poetry and song.
Subject matter includes suicide, domestic abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, rape, extreme poverty, disease and, tagged on the end, a message of hope that lost souls somehow become starlight. Anonymous is not recommended for children — or anyone who prefers the sunny side of life. A fair amount of Reiber’s show involves dancers writhing gracefully on the ground, emulating severe pain, but the unconventional choreography is stimulating enough to hold the audience’s attention.
The cast is comprised of talented young performers whose stage presence and fluid movements kept the show from becoming too depressing. There is no traditional narrative but a collection of unrelated scenes that introduce a character’s bleak story, accompanied by a dance number. The original music often sounds like the Battlestar Galactica (2004) theme, or the chill-out strains you can hear on Echoes with John Diliberto. Not a conventional musical, but instead experimental dance and theater.
Reiber collected hundreds of anonymous letters and chose to present each story as a separate six-minute presentation that has no connection with any of the nine chapters. Dance is therapeutic and expressive, but when the audience is torn between elegant movement and dour subject matter, it’s hard to find a central takeaway from this show. Great performances, but overall the show is a crowded mural of unrelated moments of urban suffering.