In ‘Violin(ce)’ at Empty Spaces, fighting is the story

Fight or flight? In this movement-based show, they do both


July 18-22 | Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St. | 407-328-9005 | | $20

Clashes in Cairo. Riots in Rio. Dogfights over Damascus. The world’s cities are aflame with fighting, while Orlando is all fruits and flowers … or so it seemed, until producer John DiDonna and fight director Bill Warriner collaborated to co-direct an experimental new show they’re calling Violin(ce).

DiDonna and Warriner have staged vignettes of movement that are bloody-minded, visceral and elegant, culminating in a chaos of combat. Errol Flynn would be proud.

“Violence happens when words can do no more,” Warriner, a celebrated choreographer of violence, says. “John and I kicked around the art of fighting for years, and this year we decided to stage scenes where the fighting is the story.”

Empty Spaces’ previous movement story, Fragment(ed), was critically acclaimed in 2012, following a 2011 Fringe Festival award for Unspoken. The current ensemble (pictured above) includes DiDonna, Miles Berman, Robert Edward Drennen, Jill Lockhart, Samantha O’Hare, Gina Makarova, Mila Makarova, Kaylie Ringer, Dion Smith, Mary Spurlock, McClaine Timmerman, Corey Volence and Jeremy Wood, with a special appearance by Matthew Carroll. They’ll be performing a grueling schedule of seven shows in one long weekend: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday, with additional 4:30 p.m. shows on Saturday and Sunday.

In this fusion of dance and martial arts, the cast threatens each other with knives, fighting sticks, swords and some medieval-looking hammer-type things. Three-dimensional space is animated by whirling weapons, flashes of sharp steel, body parts missed by millimeters. “Safety is critical,” emphasizes Warriner. At the rehearsal I attended, the cast worked at one-quarter speed, but it was still plenty fearsome to witness. Each vignette flows into the next, with guttural screams punctuating the eerie, chromatic music in a weird aesthetic catharsis. A spare set and minimal costumes put the actors’ superb bodywork in the spotlight, supplemented with original music and projection.

Warriors on stage always grip audiences with morbid fascination. Despite its Iliadic tradition, stage fighting today is generally all shoot-’em-ups and splattering bloodfests, instead of the fun of watching the ballet of a good brawl. In Violin(ce), the Empty Spaces actors’ lithe, powerful forms build tension in scene after scene, the pressure only relieved by a comic moment or two and a hypnotic metronome piece.

“Every fight tells a story,” promises DiDonna, “and the stories are more than just testosterone-filled anarchy.” They are lyrical, powerful and tap into our contemporary frustrations.

Fight or flight? As the world’s urban underclasses push back against global capitalism, this show’s message is to fight. Here in beaten-down Orlando, Violin(ce) is probably as close as we’ll get to this kind of confrontation. Those itching for a good showdown will find Empty Spaces’ experiment a movement piece for our times. You may come out thirsting for more.

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