LEO (The Anti-Gravity Show), now play in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall as part of the N.C. State University Center Stage series, is a mind-bending “physical-theater” production. Performed by acrobat/dancer Julian Schulz, the hour-long performance literally turns your sense of physical reality on its ear.
The curtain opened to reveal a large video screen stage right (audience left). On stage left was small box set piece placed on an angle, probably the size of an 8 x 10 foot room. A floor and two wall panels — brightly painted in medium blue, dark blue, and red, respectively — comprised the working space for Schulz. A slender metal bar/pipe with a bare light bulb on the end of it extended horizontally from a third partial wall.
When the lights came up to reveal Schulz and the set piece, the video screen simultaneously came alive with an image of Schulz and the set piece, but rotated 90 degrees clockwise. Therefore, while Schulz was lying on the floor of the set piece, he appeared in the video to be standing/leaning against the wall (the light bulb now appeared to be suspended from the “ceiling”). Thus began an evening of optical illusion that was funny, fascinating and, at times, poignant. LEO speaks to Everyman (and Everywoman) with its theme of encountering, learning to navigate, and ultimately embracing the new and unfamiliar.
The premise of the piece is that the video version of Schulz’s Everyman exists in a “normal” world, but he soon realizes that gravity has shifted from the floor beneath him to the wall behind him. This dawns on him gradually, as various body parts are pulled toward the wall, but the most telling evidence comes when his tie (which had been previously tucked securely into Schulz’s vest) suddenly “hangs” sideways toward the wall. A later proof is when Schulz places a small suitcase (his only prop) against the “wall” and it sticks.
It’s an exercise in futility to try to describe this performance and do it justice. LEO is something that must be seen to be believed. However, a few favorite moments/images are worth mentioning, such as Schulz hanging from the wall cross-legged (yoga lotus position) or performing a grand jeté (leap) that he suspends in mid-air, or when he straddles the two “walls” in the video and walks straight up them.
Julian Schulz’s performance is nothing short of amazing. It requires not only a great deal of strength and coordination, but also keen concentration and attention to detail. I wondered more than once during the performance how in the world one would rehearse such a piece. I learned during the post-performance Q&A that Schulz had a video monitor in front of him during rehearsals that gave him feedback on how his movements looked when shifted 90 degrees.
LEO was conceived when Tobias Wegner, the original performer of LEO, viewed the famous “Ceiling Dance” performed by Fred Astaire in the 1951 film Royal Wedding. For those not familiar with the scene, Astaire begins the dance normally enough, but then dances right up the walls and even onto the ceiling, an effect that was achieved by literally rotating the set, filming the various sections of the dance, and then rotating those film frames so that it looked like Astaire was actually dancing on the walls and ceiling. (You might be interested in seeing the YouTube video that shows how the Astaire scene was achieved: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0g3g6AvLtM. It will also give you an idea of what it’s like to watch LEO, with both versions of the action viewed side by side.)
With the assistance of director Daniel Briére and creative producer Gregg Parks, Tobias Wegner’s idea became a reality; and LEO was born. There are currently three performers touring the production: Wegner, Schulz, and William Bonnet (all three trained in acrobatics). Set and lighting design for the production is by Flavia Hevia, video design by Heiko Kalmbach. The animation for the production was realized by Ingo Panke.
Final word on LEO? Go. It’s a lot of fun — and a good workout for your brain!
SECOND OPINION: March 19th Raleigh, NC Technician review by Katherine Kehoe: http://www.technicianonline.com/news/article_3a38bbfa-af24-11e3-9c71-0017a43b2370.html; March 15th Raleigh, NC News & Observer interview with Julian Schulz, conducted by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/03/15/3701577/leo-the-anti-gravity-show-comes.html; and March 12th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/leo-the-anti-gravity-show/Event?oid=3861577. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 15th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/03/ncsu-center-stage-will-present-the-gravity-defying-physical-theater-of-leo-on-march-18-23/.)
N.C. State University Center Stage presents LEO (THE ANTI-GRAVITY SHOW) at 8 p.m. March 19-21, 5 and 8 p.m. March 22, and 3 p.m. March 23 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 Dunn Ave., Raleigh, NC 27607, on the NCSU campus.
TICKETS: $28 ($5 N.C. State students and $23 NCSU faculty and staff).
BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22089&event_val=LEO_.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://vimeo.com/81454445 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGpqNUQuKR4.
NEWS RELEASE: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/media/pressreleases/2014-02-18_LEO-press-release.html.
PRESENTER: http://ncsu.edu/centerstage/, https://www.facebook.com/NCSUCenterStage, and https://twitter.com/NCSUCenterStage.
LEO (The Anti-Gravity Show) (2011 physical-theater piece): http://boatrockerentertainment.com/portfolio-item/leo/ (official web page) and https://www.facebook.com/theleoshow (Facebook page).
Study Guide: http://www.tpac.org/education/HOT/PDF/LEO%20Guidebook%20final%20WEB.pdf (Tennessee Performing Arts Center).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/viki-atkinson/.