Dance company brings Tetris video game to the stage

Dancing quartet Arch8 turns the tile-matching puzzle game into a wacky dance routine.

When he was a kid, Erik Kaiel would stay up all night playing Tetris.

He had too much fun connecting different shaped tiles, solving puzzles and beating his own scores to go to sleep.

Today Kaiel, 45, brings the ‘80s video game to life as choreographer of Arch8’s “Tetris,” which makes its Washington debut April 20 and April 21 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Through their movements, he said the dance quartet helps kids make sense of the world and its social dynamics.

“‘Tetris’ is about wanting to belong and wanting to be yourself,” Kaiel said. “It’s a pendulum between those poles.”

The Oregon native said the award-winning show is easy for all ages to follow. The dancers interact with the audience — much to the delight of kids who can’t keep still.

Arch8, a dance company based in the Netherlands, replicates the video game’s puzzle movements on stage. The four dancers contort their bodies, mesh together and move like the blocks do. Legs wrap around arms, feet lay on backs and bodies stack on top of each other in a mix of acrobatics, contemporary dance and clowning.

Kaiel even invented a few new moves by blending existing ones with different combinations.

“It looks simple, but it takes skill to do it cleanly,” Kaiel said. “The skill level of the performers is very high.”

Kaiel earned a master’s degree in dance and choreography from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. He danced and choreographed in New York City for 10 years before moving to the Netherlands in 2003.

He choreographed six productions for Arch8, while he also performs and teaches throughout the world.

Now on a world tour, the “Tetris” performance launched in 2011. It’s never taken itself too seriously, unlike other dance routines. The dancers’ movements look strange and are supposed to be funny, Kaiel said.

“There’s nothing like us,” Kaiel said. “We’ve done the show on six continents for thousands of enthusiastic kids. Across cultures, this show is a cheat code for making kids laugh.”

Funny moments interlock with deeper meanings. Kaiel said the performance is a visual representation of social architecture and how people interact with each other in society. There’s no exposition. Kids are free to interpret the show for themselves, while it might make adults look at their life experiences in new ways.

“We liked the idea of making ‘Tetris’ analog,” he said. “It became a springboard for a new imagining of that world.”

The third act brings the dancers and audience together.

“The audience gets enthusiastic about the world we propose, and by the end kids and adults step willingly into our world to play with us,” Kaiel said. “It creates an atmosphere of deep belonging — not as a gimmick but as the logical end point of the journey we invite them on.”

Gillian Jones, programming director of the Edmonds Center for the Arts, saw “Tetris” at the 2016 International Performing Arts for Youth showcase in Montreal, where it won the People’s Choice Victor Award. She said the kids were overjoyed to be invited on stage, instead of being passive observers.

That kind of interaction is what makes the show unique, Jones said.

“I think it’s the movement; it’s so physical,” she said. “You’re getting out of your seat, which kids are usually discouraged from doing. From the moment the dancers jump into the audience and they’re climbing around, it’s so outside what is considered theater etiquette.

“You hear kids laughing, and that’s such a beautiful part of it.”

If you go

Arch8’s “Tetris” will be performed 10 a.m. April 20 and 11 a.m. April 21 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N. The Friday show is for school groups and home-school families; Saturday’s performance is for everyone. Tickets are $8 on Friday and $10 on Saturday.

Call 425-275-9595 or go to www.ec4arts.org for more information.

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