“What do I want? A new place, in a new house, amongst new faces, under new circumstances.”
So says young Jane Eyre, setting out to find her way in the world. Annie Loui sympathizes. Since the early 1980s, the St. Louis native has created ambitious theatrical hybrids for prestigious venues around the nation.
On Sept. 7 and 8, Loui will return to St. Louis with Jane Eyre, an original adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved novel. The performance — the debut offering from Loui’s newly formed Counter-Balance Theater — will launch the 2012-13 Edison Ovations Series at Washington University.
“Jane Eyre represents an emerging theatrical form, sometimes referred to as devised theater,” says Charlie Robin, director of Edison. Bronte’s text serves as the jumping-off point for a process of structured improvisation, with Loui and performers building and refining their scenes, characters and movement vocabulary collaboratively and organically.
“It’s more akin to dance than traditional theater,” Robin says. Or rather, the show “represents the points at which dance and theater intersect.”
Loui, who teaches at the University of California, Irvine, is a pioneer in contemporary movement theatre, known for incorporating techniques from mime and akido as well as from dance. She is credited with adapting contact improvisation — a postmodern dance form characterized by attentive “physical listening” between partners — to the acting studio.
“A good contact practitioner develops an alertness to physical nuance, an ability to follow through a line of motion, and an unconscious kinetic attentiveness to the ‘other,’” Loui writes in her book, The Physical Actor (2009). “Physical actors use all their senses, intuition and intellect to ‘inform’ their physical being and actions on the stage without self-consciousness or over-intellectualizing.”
Such observations certainly inform Jane Eyre, which Loui began developing in 2011 through a series of workshops. The seven actors, dressed casually in jeans and tights — the occasional lace shirt providing a hint of the Victorian — play almost 100 roles, ranging from Bronte characters to animals, architecture and furniture.
The result is difficult to categorize — part theatre, part dance; at once narrative and abstract; less adaptation than musical variation. As The New York Times observed about Loui’s In the Grace of the World:
“When the lights came up, it was like waking from a dream.”
Tickets and sponsors
Performances of Jane Eyre take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 7 and 8. Tickets are $35, or $30 for seniors, $25 for Washington University faculty and staff and $20 for students and children.
Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
For more information, call (314) 935-6543, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit edison.wustl.edu.
Edison programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors. The Ovations season is supported by The Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.