BWW Reviews: STILL NOW is a Fresh Take on an Old Topic

How do you deal with cancer? How do you deal with other people's reactions to your cancer? If you're a dancer, how do you face life in all it's un-choreographed glory?

While these are not new questions, Katie Bender's STILL NOW manages to put a fresh face on them in an engaging and moving performance.

The performance actually starts as soon as you are seated in the theater, although you aren't aware of it at first. What appears to be crew setting the stage is actually a choreographed moment that starts before the actual play proper begins. As the play starts, Annie, a dancer, has just experienced the events of 9/11. The destruction is beyond her comprehension, so she heads to Japan to study Butoh, in the hopes that the dance form can help her express the un-comprehendible. Ten years later, we see Annie's diagnosis of stage four cancer which sends her back to Butoh to prepare for her final dance.

Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theatre, first seen in 1959, that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement. The art form is known to 'resist fixity" and to be difficult to define. Founder Hijikata Tatsumi viewed the formalization of butoh with 'distress'. Common features of the art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion. In the early 1960s, Hijikata used the term 'Ankoku-Buyou' (dance of darkness) to describe his dance.

In STILL NOW we, along with the doctors, teachers, friends and lovers, experience a woman learning and then losing her body. The butoh dance discipline also applies to Annie's situation. At the center is the question 'what can our bodies teach us that our minds cannot fathom'? Butoh dance of darkness is not only how Annie dances but how the play as a whole dances.

Director Rudy Ramirez has done a lovely job with this material. His direction imparts the qualities of butoh across the evening. Abel Coelho's choreography is fluid, supportive and never overwhelms the acting, but rather enhances it. Ann Marie Gordon's set is simple and clean and hints at Japanese influence. Patrick Lord's projection work is stunning and builds on the work of Gordon. Megan Reilly turns in another beautiful lighting design and shows herself to be one of the best in the Austin area. If I had any issues at all with the tech work, it would be that the multiple black outs at the very end of the play are a little too long which arrests the flow. I am hoping these were opening night issues that will be resolved.

This is a great cast at work here. Amelia Turner, as Annie, delivers a sensational performance that is capped by a stunning piece of dance movement. Jonathan G. Itchon, as Amagatsu, the butoh instructor, is a study in control and understatement. Also delivering strong, believable performances are Joseph Garlock, Jennifer Coy, Cara Spradling and Shannon Grounds.

To go into more detail would spoil the experience of STILL NOW. This is a thought provoking and moving evening of theatre that I highly recommend.

STILL NOW by Katie Bender

Running time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

STILL NOW, produced by Shrewd Productions plays City Theatre (3823 Airport Blvd. Suite D, 78722) September 12-October 4, 2014. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8pm. Tickets: Regular - $20 ($18 for Seniors, ACA), Students - $15 with valid ID, VIP Donor Tickets - $30 - get priority seating & a free Cherry Blossom cocktail, $5 of your purchase goes towards the American Cancer Society. Reservations: https://secure.buyplaytix.com/shrewd/reserve/still_now.html



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From This Author Frank Benge