dance

Paris Is Yearning

Founded in 2006 by director and choreographer Austin McCormick, Company XIV has developed a signature fusion of theater, classical and modern dance, opera, drag, circus, live music, burlesque, and performance art. The title of its latest creation, Paris, is a double entendre of sorts—referring at once to the beloved City of Light as well as the legendary prince of Troy. Indeed, Paris unites Grecian gods and goddesses with Parisian flâneurs and can-can girls, resulting in an indulgent, adults-only revue of sublime talent.  Jakob Karr as Paris and Todd Hanebrink as Mercury in "Paris." Top: Members of the chorus. Photos by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx.

With the peeling walls of the Irondale Center (a former church) as a fitting backdrop, Paris interweaves elements of French bohemia into the Greek myth “The Judgment of Paris.” In this legend, the titular character receives a golden apple from the gods and is charged to award it to the fairest goddess. He chooses Venus, who reciprocates the award with her own, the famed beauty Helen of Troy—thereby triggering the Trojan War. This myth provides a suitable structure for Paris, but the show’s value lies not in its plot but in the variety of performances encountered by Paris (Jakob Karr) on his quest to rid himself of his golden apple.

From his tête-à-tête with Juno (Randall Scotting) to his final rendezvous with Helen (Lea Helle), Karr is stunning as Paris in every context. His duet with Mercury, played by Todd Hanebrink, is especially touching—featuring a series of lifts executed with lightness, yet also with a grounded athleticism. In his visit to the final goddess, Venus, Karr takes a back seat to Storm Marrero's house-filling vocals. Although Marrero, a woman of color, diversifies the show's cast, it is as a singer. Her curvaceous Venus stands in contrast to the dancers (inexplicably, too, her character bears the Roman name for the goddess, rather than Aphrodite). One hopes that the company's pursuit of diversity will eventually spread to the dancers.

Though many modern burlesque companies focus on the female body, Company XIV’s treatment of gender is slightly more fluid. As the dual character Zeus/Fifi, Charlotte Bydwell literally embodies this fluidity as she switches from male god to female coquette. Her costume, designed by Zane Pihlstrom, is half suit and half ball gown, so that Bydwell appears as Zeus when facing stage right and Fifi when facing stage left. This visual gag is delightful at first, but becomes tired by the end of the show. Overall, however, Pihlstrom’s costumes are breathtaking in their dynamism—from a two-tone reversible sequin dress for Venus to the ensemble’s assortment of spangled codpieces.

Members of the chorus. Photos by xxxxxxx xxxxxxx.

Jeanette Yew's ingenious lighting design illuminates the gorgeous clothing, implementing an array of sources such as sparkling chandeliers, exposed-bulb footlights, and most notably, a vintage Hollywood director’s’ spotlight on wheels that provides the show’s final iconic vignette.

There are many elements that make this show special and worth seeing, but perhaps its most universal appeal is that—just like the many glimmering rhinestones on the costumes—Paris shines light on a great many facets of human sexuality. There are, of course, moments of tawdry thrusting and heaving piles of quaking bodies; yet there are, too, silhouettes of lovers that steal one’s breath away, and even quieter moments of solitude and fear that expose the vulnerabilities integral to human sexuality. In Paris, sex is funny, scary, beautiful, sad, and, ultimately, a yearning mystery.

Paris runs through Nov. 12 at the Irondale Center (85 South Oxford St. between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn). The show, which contains partial nudity, is open to those 16 and over.  Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets start at $25. To book seats, couches or VIP tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.companyxiv.com.

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Do You Know You Are Nowhere?

With a flash of bright light and a bone-rattling buzz, Youarenowhere begins with an assault on the senses. The show's creator and star, Andrew Schneider, enters the performance space seeming as disoriented as his audience. He tries to find his feet in reality, but this is no small task, since a taut thread of existential anxiety may be the only thing holding Youarenowhere together. Will this hypermediated anxiety destroy Schneider? Will it destroy us all? Where are we, anyway? The answer, of course, is Youarenowhere. Schneider's intermedial mashup avoids letting the audience get comfortable in any genre, morphing from an existential diatribe into a TED Talk on metaphysics. From there, it becomes a magic show and an experimental dance piece. The accelerated and indeterminate nature of Youarenowhere could not succeed without its seamless choreography of sound, lighting and tech cues. This design is expertly executed by the show's crew: technical director Karl Franklin Allen, light/video supervisor Daniel Jackson, sound supervisor Bobby McElver and stage manager Alessandra Calabi. Consider the work of these technicians a remedy for theatergoers who haven't had their breath taken away in a long time.

The hyper-technological and multi-genre performance art style Schneider draws from is not entirely new, and he certainly cites his sources. Indeed, the citational nature of network technology—with its wikis and file sharing and retweeting—creates many opportunities for reference within performance. Considering the breakneck pace at which most of Youarenowhere progresses, it's impossible to catch all the references or to pursue each philosophical abyss opened up by Schneider in his tweaky, nervous manner. Schneider splices songs by Rihanna and Robyn in with classical music and an especially touching rendition of Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town," awash in cobalt blue.

For followers of The Wooster Group, the influence of Schneider's seven years of membership in that company will be readily apparent. In one sequence, a video projection of a young Schneider (at a filmed audition) ghosts the present-day Schneider. He recites a monologue with his past self with hardly a flaw. The "hardly" should be emphasized here since it is the ever-diminishing distinction between man and machine that inspires the technological and choreographic design of this moment. There is more philosophical exploration to be done on this subject, however, in the script of the play.

Though the sound, lighting and tech design of Youarenowhere formally performs the ever-present tension between (and fusion of) technology and humanity, this is precisely where the written script falls short. There exists a lacuna between Schneider's buggy, technologically mediated physicality and the words he actually says. Schneider lectures us on metaphysics and love, but he doesn't offer much tangible insight into the effects of technology and the Internet on the human experiences of love, loss and addiction. Youarenowhere's only missing piece is its reluctance to verbally process the very difficult and very daunting possibility that we are becoming machines and that machines are becoming us. Again, Schneider physically performs this tension, but his monologues tend to skirt the issue.

Schneider muses that "we exist in each other's realities. But maybe not in the way that we think that we do." When theater succeeds in calling upon us to question the very nature of our existence, it is worth seeing. It seems prudent to forewarn sensitive audiences of the bright light and loud sound in Youarenowhere. Furthermore, people with a history of anxiety or panic attacks should take note of the show's intense pacing and content. That being said, Youarenowhere could be extremely cathartic for the anxious, the lovelorn and the grieving. In provoking both awe and intense existential questioning, Youarenowhere (somehow) simultaneously satisfies one's inner child and cynic. It should not be missed.

Youarenowhere runs until April 3 at 3LD Art & Technology Center (80 Greenwich St. between Edgar and Rector Sts.) in the Financial District. Tickets range from $15-$35 and are available here or by calling 3LD Art & Technology Center at 212-645-0374.

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Down the Rabbit Hole

Third Rail Projects has a rich production history of placing its audiences on the cusp of collaborative theater. Its dancer-actors are the clicking wheels of a larger machine; they are not themselves the stars of the show, but let an almost spiritual illusion take over that billing. In the long-running hit Then She Fell, experiential theater transcends all of its normal bounds to create just that illusion. The production, which is written, directed, designed and choreographed by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, is a haunting take on Lewis Carroll's book "Through the Looking-Glass," and it derives every last morsel of dark lyricism from its source material. 

The show is set on the many-roomed floors of Kingsland Ward, a spooky hospital that looms above a dark, deserted street in Williamsburg. Moans and wails echo out of its windows; indeed, the setting seems more appropriate for a haunted Halloween night, seeing as a gated Lutheran church stands to the hospital's right side. "This is kind of creepy," says an unknowing audience member, as he cranes his neck to see the church's grey bell tower. We are yet to discover Then She Fell's liminal exploits; the thought of pushing boundaries doesn't often occur to the ordinary theatergoer, and the prospect of it seems titillating. 

A 15-member audience is invited into the building and asked to follow only two rules: do not speak unless spoken to, and do not open any closed doors. And once inside, the second rule is quite hard to follow. The building blooms into a magnificently bedecked universe of color, romance and magic. The beauty of each tableau is indescribable; each room is a gloriously fantastical rabbit hole with Alice, the Red Queen and the White Rabbit for guides. But in the files, papers and pictures we locate in these rooms, the audience realizes that Carroll's inspiration for Alice in Wonderland (Alice Pleasance Liddell, an 11-year-old English girl) is more a freewheeling obsession. His memories spin us across the many rooms of his mind, where Alice appears in twos and mirrors haunt the reflection of his face and soul. 

Every moment of the two-hour experience is tracked by a mesmerizing soundtrack of organs, piano fortes and cooing violins. Consequently, there is little speech or dialogue, an aspect of the production that surprisingly, doesn't detract from the illusion. Rather, it serves to affirm that happy deception (the sound designer is an inspired Sean Hagerty). Colors that complement this fantasy are used to great effect; the Red Queen is fiery in maroon ribbons, and her dominating dances occur in a blood-red room, while her uncontrolled, despairing dances take place in a pale white room. White is the ultimate antithesis to her existence. The disparate natures of red and white are never so apparent as they are in a stunningly concerted tea-time-fight-dance routine. 

The dance routines are splaying, grandiose things anchored to physical constants: staircases, tea tables,  chairs, and above all, mirrors. Glass mirrors figure in almost every room, reflecting ever fluid, legato movement of the dancer-actors. There is one particularly startling room where two Alices face each other across a mirrorless frame—the one inhabiting the other's image to surreal effect. But the glorying theme of the production is an beautiful, irreverent eroticism. The White Rabbit is unconscionably attractive for a woodland animal, and the Alices sway seductively against the object of their dual affections. Indeed, much of the production has been simplified, during its years-long run, into an eroticized interpretation of a classic children's fantasy story, sacrilegiously so. Then She Fell is more an ode to touchingly choreographed beauty and meaningful audience participation.  

The "don't speak unless spoken to" rule is easy enough to obey; stripping an audience of its inhibitions (such as talking directly to performers) is a difficult goal—one that the Then She Fell company does little to reach. This is through no fault of the performers themselves; entrusting an audience with the burden of collaboration is required of theatrical immersion. But to call upon a viewer to direct a performance is to cater to only a specific type of viewer: the extroverted, collaborative (and even brave) audience member. 

But beyond such trifling observations, the actual interactions with each character are like distilled dreams. Clutching our vials of red and white drinks, we are drawn into an illusion that is designed to be an ever so slightly disturbing, but fantastically inviting one. Their questions, on the many energizing character-interactions, trespass gently on your memories. "When was the last time you dressed up for someone? Have you told someone you didn't love them when maybe you did, just a little bit?"

The last cup of tea, in the last room, at the very end of Then She Fell was accompanied by a little acrostic poem by Carroll—the first words of each line spelled "Alice Pleasance Liddell." It was like one was handed a love note to remember them and the experience by. Here's the bottom line: cancel all dinners, postpone all appointments and make room on schedules for this date with Third Rail Projects. 

Then She Fell runs until March 27 at The Kingsland Ward at St. Johns (195 Maujer St. between Bushwick and Graham Aves.) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Performances are Tuesday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Admittance is strictly limited to audience members 21 years of age and over; all audience members must bring valid government-issued photo IDs. The performance lasts roughly two hours without intermission. This performance is not recommended for audience members who are not comfortable standing, walking, climbing stairs or being alone. Tickets are $95-$200 and available to purchase at www.thenshefell.comFor more information, call 718-374-5196.

 

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Brittle Steel Magnolias

Immersive performance experiences usually toe the blurry line between smashing through the fourth wall and discomfiting the audience with its intimacy. But when onlookers can cling to the familiarity of a tried and true theme, a delightful complacency settles in, and expectations tend to plateau. In director/choreographer/creator Mary John Frank's production of Debutaunt, five Southern belles conduct their coming-of-age rituals through an “interactive dance-based experience” complete with forehead-to-floor bows and book-balancing posture exercises. But the concept behind said experience wavers somewhat on the brink of maturity, even if the white gowns and heady dance numbers sufficiently hide the brittle subject matter.

The production is held at a fancily-named warehouse—Atelier Roquette—in one of the many silent streets of Red Hook’s old factory areas. We are greeted at the door by a perennially drunk debutant (Rachel Guest) and her wearied escort (Julian Devine), and are led into the cotillion-style party, where we are handed wristbands that match us to a particular deb. As the girls practice their court bows and posture exercises under the wrathful eye of steel magnolia Martha McMillen, they strain to hold their smiles and seek to incite rebellion against her. 

We harbor a half-sympathy, half-envy for the girls as they ready themselves for their debut, and their hunky escorts are welcome foils (Teddy Tedholm, something of a dance wunderkind, is the endearingly bumbling companion to Brittany Posas’ character). But they are conventional characterizations: the nerdy feminist (Melanie J. Comeau), the vapid cheerleader (Cara Seymour), the insecure overachiever (Brittany Posas), the wild drunk (Rachel Guest) and the "fat" girl (Elizabeth Dunn)—who really isn’t, by any standard, but perhaps that’s the point. Mantled mirrors show bodies that can be pinched, sucked in and held in the right places for a dress to fit, and salon tables hold every airbrushed fashion magazine that wreaked havoc on one's image perception as a teenager. In a mini performance that was deemed a fit exploration of this topic, the deb that "has" to lose her baby fat (Dunn) literally runs in circles around her proudly slim mother (Donna Fish), who is armed with a stopwatch and a whistle. 

But everyone is beautiful, and so is everything. Baby chandeliers and Christmas lights cling to the ceiling, strewing a lovely soft light on the checkered ballroom floor while couples waltz through dreamy dance sequences. Frank’s discarded personality as an ex-deb gives the choreography a bittersweet ache, and is the reigning success of this immersive experience. The five debutantes whom she directs are accomplished expressive dancers, as are their respective escorts. If it weren’t for the impromptu games of beer pong and the active attempts of the performers to mingle with the audience, spectators might have found the romance of the setting a little too intimate. Perhaps our savior in this respect is the Mistress of Ceremonies, Martha McMillen (played by Catherine C. Ryan), whose twanging shrieks and honeyed insults give her a kind of Disney-villain likability. 

But at some point, one cannot think past the pink lights and projections; projection designer Bart Cortright and lighting designer Joe Cantalupo have seen to such pretty distractions. On the walls behind the dance floor, screens show definitions of words like “daughter” and “princess” as short clips of girls with guns play next to it (perhaps a new subset of warrior feminists?) Costumer designer Liene Dobraja’s white, virginal gowns swish across the floor and further remind us of the hackneyed roles the girls are forced to play. It seems ironic that the dimensionless themes of the show (it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside, I’m a lady on the inside) are almost exactly replicated in the very fashioning of the production. At it’s core, Debutaunt’s substance flattens in service of unrepentant style. 

The performance breaks into a rip-roaring dance party after a satisfying, if lightweight, climax. As for the audience, there is no time for sheepish introversion. Outstretched hands drag you onto the dance floor and the sheer insistence on interactivity makes for quite an enjoyable experience. You are encouraged to take pictures with the show’s official photographer and post them to social media, in the requisite nod to our ballooning digital age (which doesn’t jar with the Old South flavor of the performance at all, interestingly enough). In the end, any nuance not overworked into a feminist trope may have given more heart to the production, but it remains a sparkling, and rather gilded, ball of fun.

Debutant ran at Atelier Roquette (63 Commerce Street in Brooklyn) to June 28. For more information, visit DebutauntBall.com.  

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