WHODUNIT? premiered at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth, N.S., on Nov. 3 and closed on Nov. 5.
There are many attempts at humour in Votive Dance’s WHODUNIT? and some moments are successfully cheeky. Its program describes the show as “wild and wacky” but its world would have been more satisfying if it had been much wilder and wackier. When performer Isaac Abriel lets out a loud scream, the surprise and delight that ripples through the audience show me that I may not be the only one feeling this way.
The use of voice-over, gestures, characters and storyline nudge me towards categorizing WHODUNIT? as a piece of dance-theatre, but I wish the characters had been more distinct from one another, revealing more of their individual motivations and idiosyncrasies. While performer Liliona Quarmyne had some success in connecting to the audience as a playful sleuth, the other characters’ stories were muddier, and Quarmyne’s solos were far too short, leaving me wanting more.
Choreographed by Kathleen Doherty, WHODUNIT? begins in the lobby of the Alderney Theatre with a full jazz band, led by composer Andrew Jackson, playing original music for a standing audience. The vibe brings to mind the sights and sounds of a lounge in New York City. This was a warm welcome to the WHODUNIT? world, but with no chairs set up in front of the stage, it was difficult to see the musicians and tap dancer MacKenzie Greenwell. This became important when I was unable to see the action onstage that pushed it from a performance into a murder mystery, which affected my ability to feel invested.
Choreographically, the more successful segments were those where the performers attempted to suspend time with their bodies, carefully and slowly weaving across the stage in their search for Greenwell, really committing to their roles as detectives, using extensions and long lines. For an audience member, this was as satisfying as slowly turning the page in a mystery novel. In these moments, the performers were carving a desire in me to know what happened; I only wish there had been more.
The lighting, designed by Jessica Lewis, relies heavily on blues and purples, giving the performance the feeling of a back alley and contributing to the deep sense of mystery. The performers also use one of the exit doors, the catwalk and the house as play spaces, which contributed to the feeling of mystery but weren’t all equally successful.
At the end of the performance, Greenwell finds his way back onstage, and all of the performers and musicians celebrate through dance and music. Unfortunately, the choreography here is not enough of a departure from the hunt to set the right tone, and instead relies on the music to create the mood.
WHODUNIT? is creative and fun, and it’s clear that the performers enjoy themselves. Its framework is a risky one, and while it was generally entertaining in that I didn’t look at my watch, I wish the team had expanded on the moments of success and synergy; it would have made for a thoroughly absorbing piece of dance-theatre.