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Dance Review

Climbing walls, shifting perspectives at Jacob’s Pillow

Circus artist Tobias Wegner uses video, illusion, and a piece of chalk to create a life for himself in “LEO” at Jacob’s Pillow.Christopher Duggan/Jacob’s Pillow Dance/Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow Dance

BECKET — The creators of the performance piece “LEO” take what Pink Floyd called “the moments that make up a dull day” and flip them upside down. Well, actually, they turn them sideways, which feels truer: When we succumb to the tedious minutiae that constitute a considerable part of the human existence, the slide into disillusionment more often renders us askew, aslant, rather than head over heels. (When that happens we are likely suffering from love: another malady entirely.)

In addition to gravity, “LEO” — presented through Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow — also defies easy categorization. Directed by Daniel Brière and performed by the circus artist Tobias Wegner, the piece is a brilliant, funny, and sweet duet for one man and that man’s video-projected doppelgänger. The stage is split, with Wegner’s image transmitted onto a screen on the audience’s left while Wegner is encased in a little room on the right. The screen — and, presumably, the projector’s setting — is rotated 90 degrees, so the image is a vertical rectangle while Wegner’s milieu is horizontal (think of the “portrait” and “landscape” orientation options on a Word document).


Therefore, one of Wegner’s three walls is his doppelgänger’s floor: If Wegner lies flat on his floor, feet up against the farthest right wall, his twin is simply standing upright, backed into his farthest left wall. If Wegner walks across the floor, his image — upstaging even Jesus, who merely walked on water — walks up the wall, with perfectly upright posture. That’s fun, but it would quickly become familiar, rather than fantastical, if that were all that Wegner did. Instead, during the hour-plus “LEO,” he puts his acrobatic skills to work, back-flipping, handstanding, rolling, catapulting, and scaling, while his double inverts — or, to our bedazzled, somewhat hypnotized perspective, perverts — the movements accordingly.

As the work proceeds, one’s eyes dart from right to left — never catching up enough to anticipate exactly what the skew will look like — and then left to right. One of the many perception-bending illusions is the occasional, slightly paranoid, feeling that maybe we’ve gotten it wrong: Perhaps the view on the right is the image?


Though “LEO” achieves its many wonders transparently — no smoke or mirrors here — that doesn’t diminish the effects. Just as watching Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo” — and getting a little glimpse at how Georges Méliès created his wacky illusions — in no way diminishes seeing the actual Méliès films, a good part of the charm of “LEO” is that we can figure it out; another is this everyman hero, who navigates the metaphor of climbing the walls (and the notion of living out of a suitcase) with hilarity, ingenuity, and even suspense.

Wegner’s character, costumed in slacks, shirt, vest, and bowler, conjures the underdog physicality of Charlie Chaplin; the earnest poignancy of Marcel Marceau; the elegant modesty of Fred Astaire — and when that concoction fails to release him from what ultimately feels like his cell, a little Walter Mitty is added to the mix. Using a piece of chalk, Wegner draws a life for himself; first a chair, then a table — the basics — then the comforts of a cat, a window, flowers. Another chair takes shape, as does a bottle of wine. A lovely life seems at hand, but this imaginative free-fall provides only a temporary escape. Not to worry, however: “LEO” gets the happy ending it deserves.


Might a rich inner life help us to wade through the daily flotsam? Can’t we remap/rewrite/redraw our lives and climb out of those occasional ruts? The beauty of “LEO” may stem from an illusion, but it sure feels like magic.

Janine Parker can be reached at parkerzab@hotmail.com.