A few weeks ago, during the rehearsals for RoboPop!, costume designer Heidi Ganser described her directorial debut as a riff on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips, plus a few familiar archetypes: some Romeo and Juliet, some Joan of Arc, some Wall-E. Plus "a lot of stuff we just made up." Artists aren't always the best describers of their own work, but Ganser understands precisely what she's made.
A long-form dance piece without words, RoboPop! is a story of forbidden love during a civil war between robots and humans. The two armies, played by a nine-person cast on WET's small stage, fight in dance-offs while a human (Libby Matthews) and a robot (somebody wearing a Rocketeer helmet) conduct clandestine duets. Wartime love stories tend to end tragically, and RoboPop! is no exception.
Cocreators and -directors Heidi Ganser and Ben Zamora are designers by profession (costume and lighting, respectively), so it stands to reason that their debut is more a study in aesthetics than narrative. Ganser and Zamora have imagined a retro-futuristic world that feels like a Flaming Lips fever dream: part Japanese pop and part American retro-futurism. (Did I mention The Rocketeer?) The queen of the humans wears a massive gown made of stuffed animals with a geishalike stripe of red in the center of her lips; the Juliet-human wears 1980s bleach-splashed jeans and big headphones; the robots wear boots, bodysuits, and helmets with rounded fins pointing backward.
The music is all contemporary (Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, Philip Glass remixes, original scoring by Brendan Hogan), but the dance and design are straight-up 1980s nostalgia: Andrea Bryn Bush's set conjures a Tron-era technopolis with a tilted proscenium arch painted with racing stripes and lined by lights that face—and periodically blind—the audience. The choreography, generated by the ensemble with a little help from Ellie Sandstrom of the pop-modern company locust, is a playful combination of upright breakdancing and Jackson-family (mostly Michael and Janet) moves.
The ensemble doesn't always execute the choreography as crisply and confidently as one wants: Actors, not dancers, inhabit those robot suits. But RoboPop! is a fast, light entertainment. "So often, experimental theater is meant to provoke and confront," Ganser wrote in an e-mail. "We are interested in creating an atmosphere for RoboPop! that is more like a concert. Loud, bright, and fun."