Emotions Dance and Catharsis both use the seven deadly sins as jumping-off points

Tymisha Harris as Josephine Baker | Photo by Von Hoffman, courtesy of Michael Marinaccio
Tymisha Harris as Josephine Baker | Photo by Von Hoffman, courtesy of Michael Marinaccio

Even though I'm Jewish, I have a healthy appreciation for Catholic cultural totems such as saints, ofrendas (like the Pulse memorial created by UCF professor Wanda Ortiz for last weekend's Dia de los Muertos event at CityArts Factory) and of course, the seven deadly sins. No confessional component has had a bigger artistic influence – from Divine Comedy to the Canterbury Tales to Se7en – than the catechism of cardinal vices. Last Friday, I attended two back-to-back events that both used the Malevolent Seven as their starting point, but took them to very different places.

7 Deadly Sins: Emotions Dance

Choreographer Larissa Humiston has made her dance company's celebration of sin into an anticipated annual outing that I've been attending since 2009, and it's been interesting to observe how the event has evolved over the years. For last weekend's 2016 edition, once again held at the Venue, the entertainment was trimmed back, eliminating the spoken word and live art to focus on the 45-minute dance performance.

The evening opened strong, with a sampling of sin-themed snacks – slothful stuffed figs, gluttonous Monte Cristos – catered by Green Gourmet, followed by atmospheric pre-show interactions between the improvising performers and audience. The dance program itself was composed of a solo representing every "sin" – each emblazoned in colorful body paint by award-winning makeup artist Brit Lytle – bracketed by group numbers featuring the full company.

Out of Emotions' sinister septet, Miranda Snow's "Lust" (performed to Lo-Fang's cover of "The One That I Want" from Grease) and Amanda Forsyth's "Wrath" (scored by Nathan Lanier) made the strongest impressions, with both dancers displaying athleticism and intensity befitting their characters. The rest of the company also did an excellent job of actively embodying their personas, particularly during the choreographed transitions, which were a huge improvement over the momentum-killing blackouts they've employed in the past.

This installment of 7 Deadly Sins was one of the most coherent Emotions concerts I've attended, and the modern floor-work elements (especially in Kristin Dellibovi's "Sloth" routine) were well executed. But the troupe doesn't look consistently comfortable landing their leaps and turns, particularly on the Venue's petite stage. Certain segments were especially ironic, as "Pride" moved with an evident absence of self-confidence and "Envy" showed signs of exhaustion long before her piece ended. For their next outing (Twist: Throwback Edition, Feb. 24-25 at Orlando Shakes) I'd make the modest proposal that Emotions abandon the off-balance balletics and contemporary clichés and instead focus instead on what they do best: expressing their company's name.

Deadly Sins Bar: Catharsis

An hour after exiting Emotions, I entered south Orlando's new Deadly Sins Bar, home to the Catharsis haunt experience. Created by the same folks behind When Shadows Fall, Catharsis uses the same sets as that live-action role playing game (which is currently on hiatus while many of its cast members are employed at Halloween Horror Nights) but transforms them from a cooperative, free-roaming environment into an intimate, linear experience.

After signing in and enjoying a brief striptease show with a beer- or wine-based cocktail in the bar area, guests are led (in groups of four, or individually with a $10 up-charge) into the aftermath of Penumbra's apocalypse. You don't need to know the backstory, because it goes out the window once you start encountering the sin-inspired denizens of the dungeon. Over the course of about 30 minutes I experienced a series of theatrical vignettes, each featuring a different creepy character doing their best to unnerve me. I was fed drops of fake blood; smeared with unidentifiable goo; made to lie prone while a mask of human flesh was draped on my face; harvested for hair by a mad scientist; led through pitch blackness with only a thin rope or glowing mask to follow; and forced to kneel while a robed Satanist exhorted me to evil.

Unlike some "extreme haunts" found in New York and California, Catharsis is more about violating your comfort zone than reveling in violence; there wasn't a single cheap "jump scare" in the entire maze, and the minimal gore is more implied than explicit. Even so, my scaredy-cat wife opted to let me go it alone, and a "safe word" is supplied if you must exit early. My only complaints are that (except for Lust) I couldn't tell which sin each performer represented, and the conclusion needs a bigger blow-off; guests are literally kicked out into the cold, which was confusing and anti-climactic. For only $24, Catharsis is already among the most satisfying specialty haunts I've experienced locally since Busch Gardens introduced Alone in 2010, and with some tweaks it could become a must-do Halloween tradition.

One of history's great sinners: Josephine

Finally, one of the all-time greatest sinners takes the Venue's stage starting this weekend (Saturday, Oct. 29, through Monday, Nov. 7), as Tod Kimbro's bio-musical Josephine – starring Tymisha Harris as legendary chanteuse Josephine Baker – makes its local debut. This Michael Marinaccio-directed "cabaret dream play" made a splash at San Diego's Fringe; based on the recent run-through I attended, it should inspire lust and envy here as well ... or I'll be quite wrathful.

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