Just a year after PUSH first came to shove gravity away from the stage of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, the laws-defying troupe is back.
And, once again, they are about to prove anew that there are no boundaries for the Physical Theatre gang when it comes to portraying humanity entirely through acrobatic movement.
But in one distinct regard, that was then, this is now.
"Then," a year ago, was PUSH Physical Theatre's "retrospective show," a kind of "greatest hits" compendium of the troupe's signature vignettes, featuring the seven-body troupe defying gravity and time.
That occurred in pieces like "Galileo," a gravity-free homage to its namesake's discovery of the heliocentric universe,and "The Natural World," a descent into a subterranean world of crawling, flitting insects magnified from the tiny to the human-scaled.
But for the troupe's return at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the whimsical vignettes are giving way to single powerful dramatic presentation: Bram Stoker's horror classic, "Dracula."
Very much a la PUSH ... meaning, with virtually every element (character, props, sets) evoked through the human form performing feats of eye-popping convolution, gravity defiance and stamina endurance.
"This is a full-length play ... one story," says PUSH co-founder Darren Stevenson, who also essays the title role of the vampire king, fangs intact and chest frequently bared (without a doubt, this is the buffest Dracula of them all).
"It's loosely based on the Bram Stoker original," but with the story told through the eyes of Renfield, the London solicitor who becomes Dracula's blood-bound slave.
Because Renfield's character is the only one with dialogue, a trained actor was hired for the role, then subjected to the rigorous PUSH boot camp training (workshops, etc.) to get the actor (Rick Staropoli) into a proper physical condition that allows him to interface with the full-time PUSH performers, called "PUSHers" (part dancers, part acrobats, part contortionists, part something apparently not of this Earth).
The full-length play format with an outside actor hired "is unusual for us ... and we love it," says Stevenson.
"PUSH is highly collaborative anyway," he adds. "We've never been a company where I walk in and tell everybody what to do. I come into the room with a basic concept, then the actors, dancers and movers are able to discover or find the right movements and the right ways to express themselves.
"So the choreography is as much theirs as it is mine."
The troupe was founded 18 years ago by Darren and his wife, Heather, in Rochester, N.Y., as a means to their desired end of creating a company that would merge an array of disciplines — from dance to mime to acrobatics to theater to comedy — into a single moving entity.
Amid the high levels of physical intensity on display, PUSHers are asked "to try and find an intimacy or a something that is human and personal in the work and in their artistic voice as well."
In short, "they have to be emotionally available and vulnerable at the same time that we are asking them to go to their physical limits. And that's very hard to do, day after day after day."
In addition to Darren Stevenson's taking the role of Dracula, Heather Stevenson has the female lead as object of the Count's bloodlust.
Though the production avoids graphic gore or sexual situations, it is, Darren says, a powerfully scary and intense production, with an undercurrent of frank sensuality that may be too much for younger children who may have been easily taken with last year's first PUSH visit.
"I would say, in general, that if this were a movie, it would probably be a PG-13."
In true PUSH fashion, all the performers are pulling multiple-roles duty, as often playing a piece of furniture, from a chair to a lamp to a table, as a flesh-and-blood human.
"Because of the acrobatic athleticism of the performers, we're really able to create an effect for the audience that sends the imagination on a journey that can be quite powerful."
As for the man with the fangs?
"For me, the experience of performing horror is very, very different from the experience of watching it," Stevenson says.
"For me, on stage, yes, I'm playing a monster. But in reality I'm just working and sweating and moving through things ... you know, a dad with kids at home. So these things can absurd to me. I'm constantly surprised to hear how frightening I can be to the audience."