Fringe review: Vasilisa a spell-binding trip to another time

The Times Colonist is covering the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, running to Aug. 31. All ratings are out of five.


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What: Vasilisa

Where: Metro Studio

When: Aug. 23, 24, 25, 26

Rating: 4.5

In our age of techno-driven entertainment and seconds-long attention spans, a show like Vasilisa seems a welcome throwback to another time.

A Berkeley company, Ouroboros Shadow Pictures, has recreated an old Russian fairy tale using shadow art. Shadows from various objects (woodcut-style cut-outs, live dancers, three-dimensional objects) are projected on a large screen. The tale is narrated by two musicians — one a keyboardist, the other playing double-bass.

This 50-minute performance is spell-binding and deeply artistic. Vasilisa is the tale of an orphaned girl mistreated by her stepmother. She’s sent into the forest to retrieve a “flame” (fire) from Baba Yaga, a witch. Baba Yaga threatens to eat Vasilisa (”Young flesh, and I am hungry”) unless she can carry out a series of tasks. Vasilisa survives and returns to her step-mother’s home — what she ultimately discovers in an ambiguous ending is both strange and beautiful.

The company does a wonderful job, conjuring up an atmosphere that’s other-worldly and disturbing in the manner of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The black-and-white projections are works of art, like moving pages of some forgotten, ancient book. The narration is terrific — especially the witch’s lines, delivered in a slurred, masticatory manner. The strange, atmospheric music works terrifically well.

This isn’t a show for those wanting a quick hit of zany Fringefest fun. Vasilisa is far from fast-paced. There are extended sections in which no words are spoken. In an abstract manner, they depict forest journeys and so on. Such passages give the audience time to ponder the stark beauty of the images and consider the narrative, which has spare, elemental power.

More Fringe coverage HERE

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