Dolls and the uncanny—that unsettling blend of the alien and familiar—go hand in hand. The very concept of the uncanny started with a doll: the captivating clockwork girl in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s characteristically messed-up story The Sandman. And Cirk La Putyka’s new show, with its strange meeting of humans and objects, follows the trend.
Dolls has one of those aesthetics so bleak it’s beautiful. The set—half doll’s house, half bunker—houses an unhappy collection of sparring lovers, its cramped interiors bathed in a nightmarish neon glow. It’s all post-apocalyptic chic: dirt and dust and gloom. There’s a soundtrack to match, all throbbing beats and rumbling bass. Against all of this, performers struggle and embrace – sometimes with one another, sometimes with the mannequins in their midst.
Individual movement sequences, if raggedly linked together, are frequently heart-stopping. In one stunning scene, a performer becomes a human puppet, limbs manipulated by jerking cables. In another, a man and woman are lashed together at the wrist as marriage becomes literally binding. The show also has one of the most astonishing trapeze sequences I’ve ever seen, the bodies of two of the acrobats writhing and wrapping around one another in mid air.
Sheer strangeness, though, is not always enough to sustain interest. Despite the evident virtuosic skill of the company, there’s some tightening up that could be done between the—admittedly dazzling—tricks. Uncanny it might be, but even the unnerving has its limits.