BWW Reviews: DANCE NOW at Joe's Pub – Dorothy, Annie, Maria Together
Over Valentine's Day weekend Joe's Pub hosted Dance Now, which presented an imaginative trio of performances, Dorothy, Annie, Maria Together. Each work gave a new twist to those well-known musicals The Wiz, Annie Get Your Gun and The Sound of Music. New York City's "Best Tiny Stage" exploded with energy, creativity, and humor as these Broadway classics were revived for a contemporary audience.
The evening began with Nicholas Leichter's The Whiz: Emerald City- yes, with the added "H." While the original Broadway production was titled The Wiz, short for "wizard," I pondered the meaning of this alternate spelling. The Grammarist defines "whiz" as "one who has remarkable skill in something" or "a buzzing sound." Once the show started the new spelling definitely made sense. Each character, or blend of characters, is modernized (i.e. the cowardly lion performs a solo as a spirited, but ultimately defeated boxer). Leichter also electronically manipulates the music, much of it from the score of The Wiz (i.e. "Mean Old Lion," "Home," and "Ease On Down the Road"), to create a futuristic, technological sound. In the program Leichter states that one of his goals is to "celebrate human equality and critique cultural hegemony," and he certainly does so by breaking traditional gender stereotypes and fusing dissimilar dance styles. The choreography combines house, waacking, modern, African, and hip hop styles with a subtle hint of Michael Jackson. The barefoot movement is free, bouncy, and joyous, causing the audience to cheer and clap along to songs like "Everybody Rejoice." And at the end of the piece, a male dancer puts on Dorothy's Ruby Slippers.
The second work, ShowDown, choreographed by David Parker, parodies the stereotypically embellished and exaggeratedmusical theatre of the mid-20th century. Seven dancers - six male and one female - perform to the soundtrack of Annie Get Your Gun, combining the playfulness of a western hoe down with the showiness of American musical theatre. The first duet, set to "The Girl that I Marry," incorporates graceful yet "clumsy" partnering. Group numbers parody the classic steps of 1950s Broadway shows: trenches, soft shoe interludes, and literal motions to the lyrics of a song. For example, during a sequence of all male partnering one of the dancers literally "falls" in love as he descends into a dip all the way to the floor. The partnering throughout ShowDown is original and intricate, since the dancers wear blue jeans that otherwise might restrict their movement capabilities. But no, nothing is off-limits. One applause-worthy moment is a lift in which one male dancer sits on another's shoulder and slowly corkscrews in a "C" shape down his body to the floor. But the musical comedy and creative partner work is not just for entertainment's sake. ShowDown concludes with a song and tap duet between David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin to "Old Fashioned Wedding." The song is charming and humorous, but also a clear piece of political activism where Parker breathes new life into the song as a duet between two grooms.
The last work of the night was Doug Elkins' "Fräulein Maria." The Sound of Music-inspired work begins with two female dancers, both dressed as Maria Rainer, meandering hurriedly through the audience to the stage, clad with their periwinkle dresses, straw hats, and oversized carpetbags. On stage the pair perform a playful and lively dance to "I Have Confidence in Me," in which the dancers seem to have more energy than they can contain, causing them to (gracefully) fall out of jumps and spoil their partnering. David Parker returns to the stage for the second number, a hilarious duet parodying "Sixteen Going on Seventeen." The strapping Donnell Oakley commands the stage, seducing Parker (who is wearing a dress). The duet triggers quite a few laughs from the audience, as Parker and Oakley find themselves in some compromising positions. Doug Elkins himself closes the show with his signature B-boy solo. But keeping in line with The Sound of Music theme, Elkins is dressed in a nun's habit and top rocks to the dramatic, operatic "Climb Every Mountain." A break-dancing nun - need I say more? I am not sure I will ever be able to watch the film version of The Sound of Music in the same way.
DANCE NOW's vision is to "focus on resourcefulness and creativity, discovering the new, renewing the old and reclaiming the vital role that dance plays in enriching our lives." Choreographers, Nicholas Leichter, David Parker, and Doug Elkins each fulfilled this vision by reviving traditional musical theatre stories for a contemporary crowd. Visit www.dancenownyc.org for a schedule of upcoming DANCE NOW events and performances.
Pictured: Donnell Oakley
Photo: Christopher Roesing
"The Whiz: Emerald City"
Pictured: Nicholas Leichter
Photo: Steven Schreiber
Pictured: Doug Elkins
Photo: Yi-Chun Wu