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December 13, 2012

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The day the tornadoes struck chattanooga and Hamilton County in April 2011, I was in a media bunker—a radio station’s broadcasting studio, watching the storms pulse ever closer on the giant electronic weather map. I was safe—but I was helpless. I couldn’t leave—I was working and needed—but I had no idea what I would find when I got home. Would I still have a house? Would my dogs still be there? What about friends and neighbors?

I was one of the lucky ones that day. But most of us have experienced the paralyzing sense of waiting for a storm to hit … hearing the winds rise and the branches creak and snap. “Will it be this time?” you ask yourself.

In Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga’s last show of their 2012 season, “Gods & Disasters,” that feeling of incipient terror is explored in movement, dance and spoken word. Not a play in the classic sense, the piece is a collaboration between ETC’s artistic director, Garry Lee Posey, dance mavens Ann Law and Angela Sweet, vocalist Brandi Alexander, and spoken-word artist Marcus Ellsworth. The result is fascinating; at various times riveting or dreamlike, at times a little too extended, but the highs are definitely worth the lows.

The 90-minute intermission-less piece is divided into four parts: “The Calm Before,” “The Storm,” “The Aftermath” and “Reflection.” In “The Calm Before,” conceived by Ann Law, Law, Katelynd Frierson and Mario Brooks dance a piece that, to me at least, evokes both the busywork of an average day, and at the same time, an uneasy dread of something impending. Christian Collier’s “soundscape” for this piece is masterful.

“The Storm,” conceived by Brandi Alexander and staged by Garry Lee Posey, was my favorite section because of Bruce Shaw’s funny yet menacing “weatherman,” and especially E. Devante Williams as the leering, malevolent spirit of the storm itself. Also a shout out to the show’s youngest cast member, John Calvin Sweet IV, who has a future in theater if he wants one.

“The Aftermath,” conceived, choreographed and sound designed by Angela Sweet, is hypnotic and features amazing, uncredited costumes for its eight dancers, but needs trimming to capture its full power. Yet the opening image of the dancers on the floor, pushed together like flotsam on a beach post-storm is gorgeous. The piece also movingly captures the idea of people coming together after a disaster, joined together in survival if nothing else.

“The Reflection,” conceived and written by Marcus Ellsworth, evokes particular storms and individual stories. Bruce Shaw again shines in his long monologue; a line that stood out: “People whose biggest crime was that they survived.” Monessa Guilfoil’s soulful tribute to our own losses—and will to carry on—is also wonderful, but kudos all around to the performers in this piece, who also include Mario Brooks, Brandi Alexander and Shasta Vance.

“Gods & Disasters” is also the last show in ETC’s three-year home in the St. Andrews Center. Next year the company will move to a new theater being built for them in the Eastgate Center. Congratulations to ETC on a lovely and fitting adieu, and best wishes for their challenging and exciting line-up for the New Year.

Gods & Disasters

$11

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15,

2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16

6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17

Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, 1918 Union Ave.

(412) 987-5141 ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com

by

December 13, 2012

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