Playing in the sand: Digging deep in ‘Box of Sand’

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Pigott Theater hosted “Box of Sand,” a stunning showcase of devised physical theater-dance production last Friday. The movement-based performance, directed by Sid Zhang ’25, was an ode to the magic of theatrical fundamentals done just right. Oh, and also sand — a lot of sand. 

This show was nothing like any other student theater I’ve seen. Once the sand, basking in a warm halo of light, started pouring steadily from the ceiling — and continued doing so for the first third of the show — I knew they meant business. 

Aside from a brief performance of Greek spoken word by Angelina Ambrosiou ’27, “Box of Sand” conveyed its narrative entirely in touches, gestures and shadows. In a series of vignettes set to ambient instrumentals, seven performers navigated the growing pool of sand at the front of the stage. Zhang aptly described the show as “visual poetry,” for it was a generous, expansive offering of movement-based work.

The show reminded me of Joan Miró’s paintings: a cascade of simple symbols ornately organized, a parade of tasteful, albeit surprising, vignettes. 

Ambrosiou sits on the shoulders of David Salimonu ’24 while timidly cupping sand from the continuous overhead stream. The entire cast follows an autonomous lamp as it rolls offstage. Tri Hernandez Hasselkus ’25 is buried in the sand with her head on a pillow in a funeral ceremony — a vanitas of figures. The striking side lights highlight the frustration behind the movements of Cesar Valenzuela Ph.D. ’25, as they puppeteer Alice Grace ’25 and Benjamin Brokaw ’25. Isabella Terrazas ’25 angrily sweeps the sand into a pile as others continue to dance, only for her to sway in the middle of the pool of sand and make a bigger mess on the newly cleaned stage. 

Throughout the show, sand lingers as a material that informs the actor’s movement, the stage a platform for a conversation between human and non-human subjects.

Cycles of delicate, powerful and, at times, hilarious movements were at the heart of the play’s success. Witnessing the show continuously flow into the vast and intricate sonicscape created by Sebastian Blue ’26, Atticus Griswold ’27 and Andrew Lee ’25 felt like seeing pieces of puzzle perfectly slotting into place, forming a constellation of perpetual discoveries. 

My favorite moment in the show was during the third act, when a larger-than-life white box chases Salimonu as he sneakily moves a lamp across the stage. In this sequence, the giant box opens up into a room, expands into a barrier and, in the final scene, reverts back to a lightbox. As actors slowly enter the box, we see silhouetted embraces showered in warm lights casted onto its walls. We see Valenzuela curiously trace the shadows with their hands, only to join the rest of the cast inside the box in the climax of the show. It felt like they were tracing the contour of community, gentle movements slowly blossoming into a sweet aftertaste of compassion and reciprocity. 

“It was a beautiful show with a rich use of scenography, lighting, a lot of dialogue with objects and the set,” said audience member Pauline Mornet Ph.D. ’29. “I like how the actors seem to be creating a communal language through movement.”

In some ways, the boxes, sand and light were as much of actors as the rest of the cast. The white box and its endless transmutation was an amorphous sculptural presence. The waterfall of sand that stretched to the ceiling cleverly utilizes the rarely explored vertical space to guide your gaze into the material’s pensive presence. During a vibrant and playful lighting interlude, square-shaped spotlights guided Ambrosiou offstage until the only agent dancing on stage was the light itself. 

Lighting designer and dramaturg Connor Lifson Ph.D. ’27 constructed tiny worlds onstage within which gestural motifs revealed themselves. Lit up by the warm and cool light and sparing accents of colors, the trails of glowing specks of sand echoed and accentuated each actor’s drifts and drags, expanding them into a conversation with materiality. By the end of the show, the dust on stage gathered into an ambient haze that made visible the beams of light.  

Perhaps the components of “Box of Sand” — movements, light, sound — intermixed so seamlessly because the show was developed collaboratively, in what is called a devised performance. Unlike most plays, devised theater allows all the actors and designers to make the show together. 

“The idea is for them to have fun in the sandbox; the stage is a playground,” Zhang said. “It’s all about playing, devising, making things happen.” 

During rehearsals, actors collectively generate an ephemera of gestures, sequences, images, stage pictures and personas, facilitated by Zhang. 

According to Lifson, the structure of the show changed dramatically in the last two weeks, until it became distilled into the final cohesive, expansive offering that alludes to time, space, violence, gender, connection and community.

“It’s very exciting to see this kind of student theater being developed, something that is much more conceptual,” Mornet said. 

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