“This is the corner of Bataan Street and Singleton Boulevard,” repeated the Uber driver. My friend Olivia Schmidt and I found ourselves in front of a lime green warehouse in the Trinity Groves district of Dallas. We entered cautiously, unsure whether we had truly found the headquarters of the noted “experimental” dance theatre company, Prism Co., but our doubts vanished instantly as Jeff Colangelo, the co-founder came running towards us with a friendly smile.
“We’re in the midst of choreographing a dance fight scene for 'Animal vs. Machine!' Take a seat, enjoy the rehearsal, Katy’s in the trunk of the car sorting out the music.”
There’s a large red SUV parked in the far left of the warehouse, where co-founder and aerial dance specialist Katy Tye is sitting cross-legged in spritely overalls, meddling with an auxiliary cord to get the speakers to blare the correct intense fight scene music. Colorful graffiti characterizes the central floor of the warehouse and twinkling fairy lights hang around the perimeter of the walls. But right now, all eyes are focused on the padded mats that comprise the boxing ring – the stage of Prism Co’s first theatre-in-the-round production, "Animal vs. Machine."
Four cast members slowly lower the boxing ring’s ropes as the scene transitions away from the violence of the Machine’s fierce attack on her adversary, the passionate fighter Animal, into a dreamscape of Animal’s memories of training entangled with her lover. In three battle rounds of wordless movement theatre, Prism Co. presents a dance-fight hybrid show: "Animal vs. Machine" tells the tale of two female mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters whose every blow serves to crack through past the celebration of violence to illuminate the passions that brought them to the ring in the first place.
With opening night just a few weeks away on April 23, Jeff Colangelo animatedly mirrors the exact form of the spinning-kick turn he wants Lauren Mishoe (starring as the Animal) and Christina Valentine (portraying the Machine) to incorporate into the transition to Mishoe and Josh Porter's (playing the Lover) more emotional choreography. Even from our mere 30-minute insight into the rehearsal space, it’s already apparent just how close and passionate the talented cast is. Dewayne Guy (playing the Master) throws us some goofy faces as he sees my camera, while Jasmine Segar (the Prodigy) and Mitchel Stephens (the Father) perfect their punches under Katy and Jeff’s watchful eyes. There’s a fierce camaraderie between the cast members that promises to make "Animal vs. Machine" a powerful performance.
Later that evening over dinner, Katy and Jeff explained their amusement with the label “experimental” that many critics have bestowed upon Prism Co.
“I find it funny that people call our stuff experimental because it’s actually really old. It’s older than written plays – it’s just utilizing body language to tell a story. It’s what we [humans] had to do before we invented words.”
"Animal vs. Machine" will be Prism Co’s fourth creation since its founding in 2013, when Katy Tye and Jeff Colangelo were still students at the SMU Meadows School of Arts. From their first paint-and-movement production, "Prism" (2013), the duo consistently explored new dimensions to movement theatre. "Persephone" (2015) played with light and shadow effects created through choreography with flashlights while "Galatea's" (2014) set was created out of thousands of sheets of recycled paper in keeping with its theme of an artist trying to draw his perfect woman.
“There’s always a moment when we’re making a production where we’ll both stop suddenly and wonder: how did we even think this was a good idea? What if no one in the audience even gets it?” laughs Katy.
“Especially the first two productions,” adds Jeff, “We’ve never seen anyone – at least not in Dallas – do this sort of theatre. But as we saw the positive reactions, we stopped and tried to figure out what was working in our shows.”
Describing their teamwork as earth and air, or martial arts and aerial arts, Katy and Jeff continued, “There are always new challenges for each show; they’re wildly different from each other.” For "Animal vs. Machine" in particular, the directors cite music as their current challenge: “Timing is everything for these fight-dances.
Even when people aren’t necessarily dancing, the tension and tempo has to be right in a scene. 'Animal vs. Machine' is probably our first show where light and music have mattered this much for the purposes of storytelling. They’re really going to help define the two worlds – the physical reality vs. the flashback scenes.”
But Katy sees challenges as positive things. “One of the challenges in a [wordless production] is that what we intended for a moment might not be what the audience reads from it. We’ve had people come up to us and say “oh my God that moment was about this, and we might not have thought [the same thing] but that’s the beauty and challenge of wordless theatre – our audience might take away a completely different story from the one we thought we were putting out."
“As long as our audience is engaged and emphatic to the scenes, that’s all we are aiming for. Failure to us would be when people don’t care,” explains Jeff.
“If they were to come away indifferent – having felt no reaction to the scenes that would qualify as a failure,” adds Katy.
“What’s great about our type of theatre is that it’s really just an opportunity to feel. It’s just really a lot of pure frickin emotion, man,” finishes Jeff.
"Animal vs. Machine" makes its debut in Dallas on April 23 at the Green Warehouse with a Las Vegas Fight Night theme party where guests will dress to the nines and be treated as ringside VIPs with champagne service as they watch the show. Opening night will also feature live band performances and games for the audience members. Tickets are now available and rapidly selling out.