Clara (Critic's Pick)

I wish I could put into words the magic Clara makes without them. Apparently all this dance troupe needs to visually describe the lifespan of a remarkable woman is a table, a few chairs and aerial silks hanging from the ceiling.

I wish I could put into words the magic Clara makes without them. Apparently all this dance troupe needs to visually describe the lifespan of a remarkable woman is a table, a few chairs and aerial silks hanging from the ceiling. With only these props to embellish the story, the audience can look forward to laughter, amazement, respect for our collective past and tears — so many tears. Clara is the real-life grandmother of director Aly Michaud and the inspiration behind three acted Claras onstage — one as a child, one in adolescence and one in midlife. (The last one is a constant who interacts with the dancers in most scenes, and even with the younger versions of herself). The show opens with a visual spectacle of impressive acrobatics and a preview of the tribal-like modern dancing to come with a total of 10 performers, most of them quite young. The mood of the play is set in this first scene with Bastille’s “Things We Lost in the Fire,” a poignant choice to preface the destruction wrought by the Depression and World War II that the audience witnesses through Clara’s eyes: two tragic events in her life with their own repercussions. The next scene begins the story, and we see Clara as a young girl with her parents and sisters. Throughout the play, the aerial silk is used to help describe events and inner turmoil, and its use is truly ingenious. Clara’s youngest sibling is born, and the audience sees the silk swaddled into a bundle of a fictional newborn. The young family looks happy. They play. They tease each other. Then suddenly we feel loss, as Clara experiences the first death in her young life. The dance that follows was impeccably choreographed and, I thought, the show’s most affecting. Hesitation, anger and longing perfectly combine to put into movement the grieving process one feels after enormous loss. The audience knows sadness is coming thanks to recorded comments from the real Clara. As her story continues, we see her fall in love, swaddle her own child and lose even more, this time through the havoc wreaked by war. Although the audio clips are brief, their purpose is clear: Hearing her voice, the audience has access to the real woman. That gives tangible meaning to each scene, each twirl and bend, and each ascent up the silks.

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