The Pick: Dark Matters, Crystal Pite’s drama of a puppet gone rogue

The Pick: Dark Matters, Crystal Pite’s drama of a puppet gone rogue

Peter Chu and company members in Dark Matters (Image: Dean Buscher)

Puppets are all over the city this month. Ronnie Burkett, the pioneering Toronto puppeteer, just finished a run of his show Penny Plain at the Factory; a production of Broadway hit Avenue Q recently sold out its performances at the Lower Ossington Theatre; and just yesterday, War Horse’s Joey, that neighing equine of stage and screen, lumbered into the Entertainment District for a run with Mirvish. But none of these shows are quite as weird—or quite as thoughtful about the dynamics of power and control—as Dark Matters, the puppet-packed dance piece from star Vancouver choreographer Crystal Pite.

In most shows, a puppet is a device—a way to riff on Sesame Street or get around the impracticality of having a real horse onstage. Pite’s show uses puppetry as a way to examine the nature of power. The first act, the tale of an artist whose lovingly crafted puppet comes to life and goes rogue, examines the relationship between maker and creation. It’s primal and moving, echoing countless Golem legends and Frankenstein stories (not to mention Being John Malkovich), all of which tap into that intoxicating desire to control and govern each other. Of course, the defiant bunraku puppet is only partly free—a team of shadowed puppeteers deftly controls its every flip and tumble.

The second act, an athletic modern dance piece with no puppets and no narrative, is a little harder to figure out. Dancers come together in bizarre configurations, writhing and undulating together before breaking apart, seemingly at random. But as two or more dancers twist and thrash in a clump, it becomes clear that they’re resisting, defying and manipulating each other’s bodies—and once again, the audience finds themselves asking who’s in control, and how they got to be there.

The details: To March 3. $22­–$99. Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E. 416-368-3110,