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Oscuro Review: Lots of lilac

Victoria Zerbst goes down the rabbit hole, into the enigmatic world of Oscuro.

Oscuro, Spanish for dark, suggests mystery and masking. I arrived at the Everest theatre Saturday night waiting to unmask the mystery of the Movement and Dance Society’s major production.

The opening dance sequence was striking. A girl in a purple dress walked through an mirror frame, welcoming the audience to the enigmatic world of Oscuro. Performed and choreographed and performed entirely by university students, Oscuro features 19 eclectic dance numbers ranging from Hip-Hop to Modern, set to music from Armin Van Buuren to Bjork.

The dances are woven together with a through line loosely inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The girl in a lilac dress is the ‘protagonist’, and the show follows her journey into the fantastical world of Oscuro, a world described as ‘challenging and rewarding, confusing and enlightening, terrifying and uplifting.’ For every dance, a different performer appears as the protagonist, designating the universality of the journey.

Each stage of Oscuro is signified by a whimsical symbol (a steel cube, bubbles, a veil, etc), these striking images serving as cultural totems. This is a symbolic world, which is at its best when enhanced by the triumphant uses of impressive, human-sized props.

One highlight was Introspect, a contempory number choreographed by Elena Lambrinos. The dance features five of the ‘protagonists’ interacting with a large, hollow steel cube. Whether this object is a visual metaphor for the structure of the self, or purely a means of enabling epic gymnastic feats, it is particularly impressive when rotated on its side, allowing the dancers a narrative of introspection.

The rumba, entitled Vulnerable, saw a blindfolded lilac protagonist elegantly spinning through the arms of five different partners. Another ‘protagonist’ discovers tap shoes in Discover, a playful number choreographed by Amy Pham which gets everyone tapping to Deadmau5.

The through line came to a climax when ‘characters’ from all different numbers came to help the lilac protagonist reclaim the pilfered mask from the Mask Thief. During this morally satisfying intervention, the protagonist dance kicks the Mask Thief in the face, but leaves the mask behind as she pas de bourrées back through the mirror for the Finale.

When 80 energetic dancers fill the Everest stage to Empire of the Sun’s Alive, it’s clear how impressive a feat the show really is. Lisa Kobayashi has done an incredible job coordinating an extraordinarily accomplished show for a packed audience that loved every minute.

There were only a few minor issues. Some transitions were more effective than others, with lengthy silences or darkness breaking the mood on occasion. The lighting was also, shall we say, esoteric at times with a little more oscura at the beginning of some numbers than was perhaps intended.

In short, Oscuro successfully exhibits the wondrously creative vision of the Movement and Dance Society and the remarkably diverse dance talent it houses. The enigmatic mask of MADSOC has been lifted and all I want to do is join the dancers on stage.