REVIEW: Jupiter Orbiting || Joshua Pether and PICA

PICA is currently presenting a curious and intriguing work by dance artist Joshua Pether called Jupiter Orbiting. Pether has been developing and performing the piece, a dance/physical theatre hybrid, since 2018, when it premiered at the Next Wave Festival. Jupiter Orbiting features music created by Daniel Jenatsch and videography by Neil Berrick, and takes us into an eerie realm of light, form and childhood artifacts.

The show opens with Pether standing in a white unitard, crowned by a matted pink party wig, his face obscured by something made with fishnet, with empty balloons, Lego pieces, and animal figurines pinned to his garment. He’s arranging other Lego pieces and animal figurines on a rectangular table covered with a white sheet; he does this with great care and attention, making sure each piece is positioned just so.

From there, he decorates the stage and table further with pieces of ruptured balloons, entering the audience space slightly. He introduces a GoPro camera and a reading light, and begins videoing around the miniature landscape he’s created on the table. The video feed is projected onto the back wall of the theatre. Is Pether playing a child pretending to orbit a newly-discovered planet, perhaps? His intention isn’t totally clear, but he keeps us wondering and watching.

Pether moves to and from the rear of the stage, and along the back wall, adding and removing costume pieces and props. During one moment, he sits cross-legged facing the back wall, where a montage of 80s cartoons like He-Man, Transformers and Care Bears plays. We can perhaps perceive a through-line of fantasy, transformation, anthropomorphism and superpowers. Some text in the form of diagnostic questions is overlaid on the imagery, but how this video sequence ultimately relates to the other elements of the work, I think, is largely up to the viewer.

Jupiter Orbiting’s soundtrack is dense, layered, and atmospheric; it feels like a second presence on stage. Lighting also plays a big role here, as side lighting sculpts Pether’s taut form through chiaroscuro. As I’ve indicated before, it’s difficult to decipher or uncover meaning in Pether’s creation, but this isn’t necessarily to its detriment. In fact, it’s possible that the show’s puzzling nature is what makes it so mesmerizing to witness.  


Jupiter Orbiting runs until May 25 at PICA. For tickets and more information, please visit here: