Finding Light Within the Shadows: ‘Broom Dance’

Poster for Birdbone Theatre's 'Broom Dance'. It includes the company, title of show, location, date, and website.

The sweeping spectacle returns!

Birdbone Theatre’s Broom Dance was reviewed last year by Haley Sarfeld and has made its way back to the stage after further workshopping and the incorporation of a new collaborator. As beautifully crafted shadow puppetry, the play follows a few different storylines that explore Slavic, Italian, and Polish folklore. Curated by Aleksandra Bragoszewska, Alison Gowan, and Ekaterina with compositions by Gowan and Ekaterina, Broom Dance bewitches an audience with vast creations. 

Let’s set the stage: Inside Next Church, there are rows of pews leading up to a blanket and pillow covered portion at the front of the church. Just upstage of this comfort area is a white arch in which the semicircle at the top is made of a thin fabric. To the right of the arch is a table lined with props and a few instruments. Jan LeClair enters and sits down in a chair to begin playing the accordion. The three pieces she plays—two of which she composed herself—vary in style while keeping a playful drone. LeClair’s feast of folk music is the perfect lead into Bragoszewska, Gowan, and Ekaterina’s opening song. Maintaining the essence of folk, they add a dimension of harmonic depth to the music, singing without accompaniment. 

Shortly after this, the shadow puppets come to life. The semicircle of fabric lights up and tall, looming trees shift within the space. An eerie medley joins the scene. The forest moves in and out of focus and faces seem to appear within the brush—whether or not intentional, I could not peel my eyes away, desperate to find the mystery behind these trees. 

Eventually a new set takes its place. The introduced figures and items continue to build the performance in an effervescent manner. The puppets contain phenomenal detail and work in tandem with the sound—all of which is created live by the performers—to bring the show’s beings to life. Some shapes are quite obvious like the door that shakes or the broom that sweeps. Some are left open to interpretation like the animal with multiple faces and the thin lines that move with the sound of a spring. What stays consistent though is the cohesiveness of the puppets. All their looks resemble something between webbed lace and the bark of a willow tree. 

Another impressive measure is the uniqueness the puppeteers take in presenting their work. As they entered the stage, each felt comfortable addressing the audience and encouraging folks to come closer for better sightlines. During the show, some sound effects are made while the performers appear within the audience’s view. Watching a performer blow bubbles with a glass and straw while seeing a shadow puppet of a cauldron tremble is intensely exciting. It’s rare to see the method behind such a creative aspect of a show. 

This imaginative approach continues as the eerie feeling slips slightly and some comedy creeps in. A fearful hand falls servant to Baba Yaga and its quivering quips make way for a fair few laughs as it succumbs to its captor’s orders. These quips are some of the only spoken words in the show and it’s quite lovely to see how speech is used sparingly to create impact. The remainder of the show hosts many mumbles and noises from characters with additional singing from the performers. 

There is much light to be found within the darkness of Broom Dance’s shadows and its incredulous detail has kept me in awe. 

Birdbone Theatre’s ‘Broom Dance’ was performed at Next Church on March 3rd, 2024. It has upcoming performances on March 29th, 2024 on Wolfe Island and April 13th, 2024 in Lyndhurst.  More information can be found here

Information on Jan LeClair can be found on her website