Fox and Beggar Theater kicked off its multi-city tour with a performance at the Diana Wortham Theatre, Friday-Sunday, July 22-24. This week the show, Tarocco: A Soldier’s Tale, travels to Raleigh, Winston Salem, Atlanta and Greenville, S.C.
Tarocco is a quintessentially Asheville production. Part play, part dance and part circus, it uses the fool’s journey of the tarot to tell the story of a wounded World War I soldier, played by Ross Daniel, as he lies dying behind enemy lines. Poi-spinners, scarf-dancers, hula-hoopers and aerial acrobats depict the soldier’s plight by showcasing 21 different tarot-themed acts with titles like “The Lovers,” “The Tower” and “The Hierophant.”
More of a performance piece than a play, Tarocco is visually stunning and composed of an incredibly talented cast of dancers, puppeteers, musicians and acrobats. It is impressive, if a little difficult to follow from a plot perspective. The dancers employ ballet, belly-dance, interpretive dance and tumbling to a live electronic musical score performed by Marcin Bela and Lisa Harkness. Tarocco also uses a host of giant puppets that take to the stage to torment, test or comfort the soldier as he moves through a landscape dominated by artist Alexander Daniloff’s illustrations of war-torn Europe.
Tarocco is not new to the stage. Director Nat Allister premiered it in Asheville last summer, but spent the past year refining the production and investing in the backdrop and props. This summer, Allister is taking the play on the road to seek a wider audience for his surreal vision.
The background illustrations are magnificent and the puppets are bigger and more elaborate than last year, albeit on stage too briefly. The slowest act of the show was “The Chariot,” an animation of a silhouetted wagon traveling across a battlefield. The art was good, but the stage seemed empty without any of the dancers or gymnasts performing.
Highlights of the show included the aerial acrobatic work of Jay Clement, whose rope climbing and tumbling during “The Emperor” and “The Hanged Man” seemed to defy the limits of human strength and balance; a dizzying performance as “The Moon” by contortionist and acrobat Brittany Randolph gave; and Daniel’s emotionally wrenching interpretive dance to a spoken-word piece “Judgement.”
Tarocco is imaginative and dreamlike, but hard to follow. Attendees with some understanding of the tarot may find more meaning in the depicted scenes, but concrete understanding is not what the show seems to be focused on. Instead, the production uses complex imagery, thrilling stunts and elaborate choreography to stimulate the subconscious minds of the audience. For those who wish life was more like a Salvador Dali painting, this is the play to see. On the other hand, even those who prefer storytelling with a clearly defined plot arc will be amazed by the acrobats.