BWW Review: PROGRAM B of 'Soaking Wet' Wipes out with Lame Jokes and Relentless Repetition
Program B of Soaking WET -- David Parker's venerable series of commissioned choreographic evenings at West End Theatre -- was a shambling study of dance that was not really dance contrasted with dance that stayed too long at the fair. On paper, Lawrence Goldhuber/Bigmanarts contrasted with Christopher Williams -- both theatrically inclined and unafraid of being wacky -- sounds marvelous. Marvelous dance evenings are certainly what Mr. Parker usually presents, but many hours after the fact I am still waiting for the magic of May 19th, 2016 to coalesce.Lawrence Goldhuber's "2 Scenes from SMITE (a Bible epic)", a series of solos and interlocking duets that highlighted the idiocy of war, opened the program. This set of staged movements resembled the results of too much marijuana and not enough structure. The image of a story board session sprinkled with generous doses of "Wouldn't it be so cool if we did that?" came to mind while watching what looked like a rejected skit from "Saturday Night Live". The sophomoric humor -- dialogue included characters uttering "yo", "sup", "awesome", "you pussies", "f#ck" -- aimed for the puerile shock value of "South Park" but managed the task of failing just north of banal. What is supposedly the tale of "David and Goliath" -- we learned this much from the computer generated voice recorded script which also doubled as lip syncing material for the namesake characters -- is set on a cast of technically unaccomplished performers. It is possible that these performers were actually physical dynamos, just as it is possible that at some point this play that was posing as a ballet once intended to have actual dancing in it. No indication of either possibility ever materialized. While Roy Fialkow and Mr. Goldhuber camped it up as the main characters -- before dying or being killed off -- the two women of the cast, Elyse Desmond and Alexandra Montalbano, stood stoically in the background à la background actors in an epic biblical movie. Following the resolution of the main story, these two wrestled and stabbed one another to death. The end.
Set to Scarlatti's "Il Giardino d Amore", Christopher William's suite of operatic dances came as a welcome relief. Featuring imaginative costumes designed by Andrew Jordan that transformed the dancers into phantasmagoric fairies and enchanted creatures, this work was fully realized as a concept and beautifully wedded with its music. And that is ultimately what proved problematic. True to the baroque nature of its music, the movement for "Amore" was ornate and gloriously inventive the first time you experienced it. But in endless repetition, what initially felt revelatory became oppressive. Usually in baroque music, revisiting the melody invites embellishment or ornamentation so that the audience does not have to sit through hearing the exact same thing twice. For this recording by Munich Chamber Orchestra, the repeats remained staid, and in spirit with the music, so did the choreography. This would have been fine had it not gone on ad nauseam. What might have been five minutes of invention became 10 minutes of diminishing returns and with the exception of Raja Feather Kelly as Amore, none of the performers had the stamina or expressiveness necessary to keep the work alive. Justin Lynch, Kyle Gerry, and Christiana Axelsen were lovely to look at -- they all have six packs and well worked out arms -- but by the end of the piece they looked drained.
As Adonis, Andrew Champlin had the benefit of dancing the least and remaining in top form. Assigned movement that was lyrical and lush, Mr. Champlin made the most of his clean line and generous rond de jambe -- circling the leg from the front to the back -- to sweep through beautiful turning sequences that left the audience gasping for air even as his flat characterization prompted one to wonder if he wanted to be there. One thing that was interesting about Mr. Champlin was his gender fluid interpretation, though it is not clear if this was intentional. Upon entering, his gender proved ambiguous. His dancing -- which is lovely, crisp, and at times 'feminine' -- did not help to clarify the query. Further obfuscating the question was his lack of a relationship with Ms. Axelsen; there was no traditional gender defining interaction between them or any sort of relationship at all. This potentially important detail felt frustratingly underdeveloped and distracting. Were they or weren't they involved; was a statement being made; were they even in the same production? It was never clear. If George Balanchine's comment that the moment you put a boy and a girl onstage together holds true, what does it mean when there is no interaction or interest between the two? Luckily the effervescent Mr. Kelly returned, silenced such inquiries, and recaptured all attention with his fluttering eyelashes, bubbly smile, and ever engaged back.
Though he lacks the classical polishing that this work cries for, Mr. Kelly was wonderful in his role. It helped that he played to the audience, leaving little to the imagination. It is almost as if he wanted to communicate who he was. Indeed, he used each new step to develop the story. In this way he was the main character, or the only character that the audience cared about, which was rather problematic considering that there were three other important characters in the work. Many people are familiar with the story of Adonis and yet it was never clear what this ballet had to say about the myth or anything else for that matter- except for when Mr. Kelly was onstage, and then it was all about him. One suspects that Mr. Williams is using this run to craft the staging of a new opera production. Whatever his intent, adhering less to the musical repeats, coaching his dancers better, and developing new movement would be a good idea.
Had I not been reviewing this show, I would have thought that I had wandered into a middle school production of a nondescript "Roman adventure"- only in this instance, all of the children have been rendered incapacitated by a tragic food poisoning accident, necessitating that the adults play their roles. I might even have enjoyed that particular play. Instead we got "SMITE", a lazy exercise too inured with its own silliness to be enjoyed. Perhaps that was the point: to make an exhaustively silly statement about how exhaustively silly and unenjoyable war is by using simple stage directions intermixed with vernacular dance movement -- run, stomp, skip, body roll, wrestle, slice, strike a pose, etc. Even that lame rationalization sounds too well thought out to apply here. Whatever the case, at 20 minutes "SMITE" felt 18 minutes too long.