Darwin the Dinosaur




Darwin: An Adventure for All Ages created, choreographed and directed by Ian Carney and Corbin Popp

Kirk Douglas Theatre • March 9-14, 2009 (rev’d 3/14m)

with Anna Morris, Stephen Charles Nicholson, Meg Paul, Corbin Popp, Michael Quintana, Tierney St. John

Loosening the grip that computer games and other technology-based entertainment have on young attention spans could use some “alternating currency.” Recently, Center Theatre Group jolted the effort forward with a P.L.A.Y. production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre entitled “Darwin: An Adventure for All Ages.” The multi-disciplinary production drew a couple of housefuls of Culver City kids and their handlers. And, true to its claim, connected with the full span of viewers.

Created, choreographed and directed by Ian Carney and Corbin Popp, ‘Darwin’ is rich in the technologically dazzling visuals that today’s kids relish. It also promotes appreciation for puppetry and movement, art forms that resonate best in live performance. However, because the onstage characters appear to be mere light drawings, younger patrons may not appreciate what they’re appreciating until the humans reveal themselves at curtain call.

‘Darwin’ creates a menagerie of fantastic figures from squiggles of thin, neon piping and sets them into a dark Douglas stage. With a relationship reminiscent of Geppetto and Pinocchio and images recalling the Main Street Electrical Parade, ‘Darwin’ tells a story of a good-natured dinosaur discovering the outside world. Assembled and nurtured by a lonely scientist, Darwin is soon sent out to experience life for himself. His adventures will include escaping a carnivorous Tyrannosaurus, meeting a friendly pair of long neck creatures, and a deepwater swim with the fishes, including a big bopper with sunglasses. Eventually, overcome by worry and loneliness, the scientist goes looking for him and gets caught up in the fun and danger.

Justifying naming the dinosaur after Charles Darwin, the biologist who proposed the theory of evolution, a pre-show voiceover explains that he “discovers the evolution of love.” It’s tenuous, but clearly traced by a bright-red squiggle in the shape of a heart. The heart is passed from scientist to dinosaur to fish, etc. leaving each bearer with an increased peace, love and understanding.

Such a mix of science and creation might seem provocative in an age when school yards – like those the play visited on its brief tour – are battlegrounds for curriculum challenges. Some now demand that a religious-based ‘Creationism’ get equal time with Darwin’s Evolution theory. Still, it’s hard to imagine a show as inspired and well-intended as ‘Darwin’ stirring up any controversy.

Instead, it is a wonderful hour of fantasy that combines ancient, wordless storytelling with modern technology and music – both orchestral and pop. From the audience response, ‘Darwin’ has made future theater visits an easy sale – for all ages. And that’s evolution our culture needs more of. From my nephews’ post-show discussion, I can add one more rave: “Our favorite part was the light sabers.”


BWW Reviews: CORBIAN Visual Arts and Dance Production of DARWIN at Wash U.

CORBIAN Visual Arts and Dance is a unique group of individuals, led by artistic directors Ian Carney and Corbin Popp, who are committed to bringing startling and engaging imagery to the stage. By utilizing illuminated wiring, puppetry, and a troupe well versed in dance and movement, they’re able to bring their simple, but elegant sketches to life. Their clever production Darwin played the Edison Theatre this past weekend (May 8, 2010), and provided a large and receptive audience with an eye-popping display of storytelling that’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen.

The plot is sort of more benign Jurassic Park-type tale, with a scientist creating a green raptor-like critter, who he provides with a heart that seems to tame his more base instincts. Though they form a bond, the scientist reluctantly sends his creation off to find his place in the world. Along the way, he encounters huge birds, fish, and a vicious red cousin. Saddened at his loss, and wary of what might have become of him, the scientist ventures out to find his lost charge. This leads to a climactic battle between red and green raptors that plays out with nods to both Star Wars and The Matrix.

The performers carry off this action with tremendous skill and grace, easily captivating the audience, and allowing them to become fully invested in the journey taking place. Each member is required to suit up in black before being covered in whatever wiring is needed to conjure up the creature appearing on stage at the time, so their anonymity is assured. But, they all possess the talent necessary to manipulate their bodies and puppets in ways that make each of them seem vibrantly alive and breathing.

Watching Darwin is an exhilarating experience, and a literal feast for the eyes and ears, with atmospheric sound cues and music neatly syncing up to the movements to produce a complete picture. Corbian Visual Arts and Dance is a force to be reckoned with, and it will be interesting to see how they evolve, especially with the inevitable technological advances that will come over time.

I really enjoyed attending the Washington University Ovations! Series at the Edison Theatre this season, because it gave me the opportunity to expose my young son to some of the most innovative and imaginative theatrical companies from around the globe. He was able to experience the thrills of a world-class clown (Jamie Adkins’ Circus Incognitus), some super-cool percussion from musicians who build their own instruments (ScrapArtsMusic), and the striking visual artistry of CORBIAN Visual Arts and Dance (Darwin).
by Chris Gibson