Review: In ‘Hidden Away,’ imagination plays with words on page

Fragments of stories by A.A. Milne, Charles Dickens and dozens of others resonated through the Decatur Library last Saturday and Sunday evenings, while more than 20 performers brought books to life through dance, music, words, sound and light.

Nicole Livieratos and Phillip DePoy, co-creators of the work, “Hidden Away, the Library at Night,” did more than pay tribute to the public library as institution. Their movement theater work transformed the building’s first floor into a realm suspended between fantasy and reality, where images, thoughts and feelings flowed nonsensically from one to another and often appeared juxtaposed, offering uncanny revelations from ordinary things.

It also offered glimpses of the depth and breadth of human experience, all captured in words on a page — from whimsy and wit to haunting reflection to a heightened sense of being alive.

Presented by the Lucky Penny in partnership with the DeKalb County Public Library’s Decatur Branch, the site-specific performance opened last weekend to capacity crowds and will run again this Thursday through Saturday.

“Hidden Away” is Livieratos’ and DePoy’s first collaborative work since they co-created “Beowulf” 20 years ago at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. DePoy sees “Hidden Away” as a continuation of “Beowulf” in many ways; but it also reflects Livieratos’ interest in unconventional performance spaces and time frames.

Though its audience numbered about 100, “Hidden Away” maintained Livieratos’ trademark sense of small-scale intimacy. The library’s floor plan, rooms extending from either end of a central corridor, offered several choices of what to see at any given time. Though “Hidden Away” lasted only 30 minutes, the viewer could return to a later show, make other choices and have a different experience.

Last Saturday night, entering the library was like walking into a storybook. Double doors funneled visitors through a grove of trees laden with words. Performers dressed in parchment white and pale yellow linen filed past, carrying open books, absorbed in their pages. Mysterious whispers filled the air. Dancers rushed down a passageway where a curved white wall guided viewers around a bend into the children’s wing.

Later, performer Tim Harland silently read a book of Greek mythology in a darkened corridor, while dancer Lori Teague perched on a librarian’s desk and read aloud from J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” Like a figment of an overactive imagination, Teague tapped restlessly on a wood countertop; dancer Juana Farfan swung across a high desk panel like a giant clock’s pendulum. The two hid behind furniture and peeked at each other with startled gasps, as if in a whimsical world of childhood fantasy.

Otherworldly choral tones drifted from the library’s front west wing, where three women twirled under one another’s arms. Referencing a gravestone photography book, “Scoring in Heaven,” armchairs became headstones. The three danced in front of a coffin-shaped bookcase, creating a ghostly effect.

In a nod to classical ballet, four young ladies stood up from their studies at a table, opened their feet into ballet’s first position and began marking, with their hands, steps from “Swan Lake” while an a cappella trio sang an increasingly silly rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Four Little Swans.”

Mastery of body and mind prevailed in the front east wing, where several dancers balanced, elevated on tables, walking as if on a tightrope. They seemed to absorb every word from Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin,” which described a tightrope walker’s Zenlike concentration, belief in creative possibility and exhilaration.

“The dead can dream. I’ll show you how I know,” read young Bella Smith and Beatrix Clark in a somber scene across the hall. DePoy, author of those lines, hit keys on an old metal typewriter: tap, te-tap-tap rat-ta-tat. Another performer read an obscure detail from a musician’s life in Jazz Age Paris. Tap, te-tap-tap rat-ta-tat, DePoy typed on, suggesting the power of printed words to drive thought to action, preserve and share experience, and defy the forward march of time.

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