The title of Live Action Set's current show is The Sparrow — "or 'espero,' or 'despairrow,'" notes the program. "Whatever you hear, that's the right word."
That might be an inside joke, but it's also a tip that this performance is going to be tough to pin down. A busy, episodic show that draws heavily on dance, The Sparrow is alternately abstract and absurd.
Co-directed by Noah Bremer and Joanna Harmon, the collaboratively created Sparrow is divided into two halves that are each about 30 minutes long. The two acts are very different in content and tone, with the second half being more colorful (both literally and otherwise) but, overall, less engaging than the first.
The Sparrow is performed by 23 people who flock together, with artists occasionally breaking out for solos or duets. The show thus becomes an exploration of the balance between the security of a group and the expression of an individual.
The individual who does most of the expressing in the first act is Eve Schulte, a James Sewell Ballet dancer who demonstrates her modern-dance chops in fluid, expressive solos when she breaks from the pack. She's the only dancer clad in dark clothing — the others are all in white — and the largely somber, often silent first act feels like a journey for Schulte's character.
No one runs across the stage flapping their arms, but the onstage behavior often evokes various aspects of birds' collective lives. The performers wordlessly sing-scream notes in unison (achieving impressive sonic overtones). They stand in V formation and repeat waves of motion stemming from the leader. One dancer even emerges from a plastic bag as if it were an egg.
In the show's second act, the cast wear brightly hued togs and prance out with funny little movements and sounds that characterize the various... well, let's just call them birds. Things get heavy fast, though, as the cast members take turns stepping to the front of the stage and making short, straight-faced non sequitur statements. Pairs of dancers also perform pained duets, and by the end, everyone onstage is either crying or laughing.
(There's also an interval where cast members answer questions about various unrelated topics, apparently supplied to selected audience members, who ask the questions when cued. It's like a dry, dadaist talkback.)
The show has some compelling moments, mostly occurring in the first act, which benefits from having Schulte's radiant dancing as a connective thread. The second act, with its stagey silliness and deliberately jarring shifts of tone, explores alienation thematically, but also visits it upon the audience. This bird-themed production would have been more engaging if its creators had thrown us a few more crumbs.
IF YOU GO:
Live Action Set at the Southern Theater
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
Through May 20; 612-326-1811