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“Donka – A Letter To Chekhov” captivates the audience

“Donka – A Letter to Chekhov” incorporates acts such as talented acrobats. (KENNETH HO / THE STATESMAN)

On Saturday, Nov. 10, students traveled back in time with a group of Dublin dancers to medieval Russia, and the portal through time is “Donka – A Letter To Chekhov.” With all the lure of a circus, dance, modern graphic projections and gravity-defying acrobats, it is arguably one of the most student-friendly shows the Staller Center for the Arts has brought to the campus. To advertise the show, there were active promotions on the digital marquee and posters around campus. In addition, there was the consideration of students’ budgets by providing the standard $7 student rush tickets available with a student ID. Already a guaranteed sellout, “Donka” was put together by the internationally renowned director of Cirque Du Soleil’s “Corteo,” sky trilogy of “Nomade” and the Broadway hit “Rain,” Daniele Finzi Pasca.

The Staller Center is excited and honored to welcome the return of Pasca, having established previous successful bills with his other plays for Cirque Eloize. “We know how creative and entertaining this kind of circus art can be,” Julianne Greene, the Marketing and PR Director of the Staller Center, said.

Pasca projects humanity with playfulness in the performance. When he stumbled across the diaries and annotations of the late Russian physician and playwright Anton Chekhov, he found the ‘states of lightness’ he’s always been searching for on stage, and it comes to fruition with the production of Donka.

“Donka,” in Russian, refers to a bell tied to a rod to signal that a fish has taken the bait. The play draws parallels between Chekhov’s favorite activity, fishing, and waiting to capture an idea. “People could not understand. They think we are doing nothing. Without silence it’s impossible to capture an idea.” This line from the performance exemplifies the sentiment of all writers.

As a letter to, rather than from, Chekhov, the play brings forth element of modern projection by Roberto Vitalini, which plays with figures suddenly enlarged and then minimized. A mother’s playing with her baby shadowed by tantalizing fingers overhead implies when life takes a joking turn.

There was not a substantial plot to the production, but, rather a seamless stream-of-consciousness that became a love letter to Chekhov. A tap dancer with feet like a hanging marionette further depicts the sense of lunacy and irrationality associated with the love depicted.

What was amazing was the dreamlike quality portrayed by this troupe of international performers. Moving in suspended, fluid slow-motion to triple-beat waltz, they were so absorbed in their activities as if they were in a world of their own.

At the same time, Pasca was able to connect with the audience and set this play from other by showing the characters’ struggle to provide a sense of reality. Sometimes singers would come in to disrupt the performance of another, glass figurines would fumble together and the three sisters would fight over the swinging bar.

However, viewers should avoid making the assumption that Finzi Pasca avoided deep topics in an effort for entertainment. There was the accordionist’s mourning in a penetrative voice while others nonchalantly smashed ice chandeliers in one scene. Another act examines a quote from the show, “the obsession with dissection,” through an on-stage examination of the human soul.

In the finale, performers delicately dropped down and then instantly sprang to life again from the floor as the revolving hospital bed passed over them, symbolizing Chekhov’s own death.

The show ended with much awe. It is hard to pinpoint which scene was more memorable: the Cyr wheel by Daniel under a downpour of crimson confetti or the contortionist becoming a pretzel at the physician’s check. Perhaps the take home message from Donka, is the passionate defense of the imaginary world and taking the universal struggle for a better life with poised acceptance and light-heartedness.

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