BWW Reviews: La MaMa Goes Dancing, Puppet Theatre Style

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La MaMa, in association with Loco7 Dance Puppet Theatre Company, presents the World Premiere of Urban Odyssey. Conceived by Federico Restrepo and Denise Greber, Urban Odyssey depicts the experience of immigration to America through movement and visual theatre.  A part of La MaMa's 50th Anniversary season, Urban Odyssey is a limited engagement run at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre (66 East 4th Street) from March 22 – April 8, 2012. 

Urban Odyssey was designed, directed and choreographed by Federico Restrepo. Obie Award Winner Elizabeth Swados composed the original score with text by Elias Khoury. This new work is the culmination of a ten-year investigation that began in 2002 with a production created from Federico Restrepo's personal experience as a Colombian immigrant.

Dance has always played a large role in the work of Loco7 and Urban Odyssey is no different.  The collaborating dancers were some of the finest I've seen in the city.  Navigating through the piece with puppets and masks, they still found a way to express raw emotion even when their faces were obscured.  The musicians were extremely impressive as well, filling out and giving dimensionality to the piece.  A standout was Kari Bethke, violinist.

Obviously the puppets are in someway cornerstones of the piece.  It's obvious why Loco7 has received grants from foundations like the Jim Henson Foundation. The use of unconventional materials and the multitude of styles of puppets used by Loco7 in Urban Odyssey frankly made The Lion King look like a sock puppet show.  The best example was the tent, designed by Catarina Leitao. At the top of the show, you are unaware it is a puppet. Nonetheless, it winds up becoming a central focal point and character in the show. 

Urban Odyssey is divided into three episodes. The first episode, "9 Windows" reveals a series of multi-media experiences of being a displaced immigrant. The second episode, "Open Door" addresses the impact of the immigrant on the diverse cultural background of New York City. The third episode, "Room to Panic" depicts the joy and struggle in achieving the American Dream. Urban Odyssey is a voyage of human experience, from leaving ones homeland to finding a new country, to making a new home and setting down roots. 

Although the ensemble was enthralling to watch and the theme is relatively timeless, there was something that felt extremely dated about this World Premiere.  I understand that the origins of this piece go back to 2002. However, I feel this piece was, and still is, a commentary on the administration of George W. Bush.  Don't get me wrong.  There is plenty to comment regarding George W. Bush, but there is nothing fresh about it.

Overall, the show is family friendly (appropriate for audiences ages 12 and up).  The puppets are a visual treat.  The dancing is strong and the music is evocative.  The subject matter though is sadly dated and was a great disappointment, at least for this theatregoer. 

If you want to check out Urban Odyssey by Loco7 Dance Puppet Theatre Company, it runs now through April 8th at La MaMa.  For tickets, visit La MaMa.org or call 212.475.7710.


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