I’ll admit it, I don’t like programmatic dance. You know; dances that waste too much effort telling stories rather than delivering artistic dance performances. So maybe it isn’t surprising that I didn’t much care for Erik Stern’s Demolition Derby.
Sitting through the performance felt more like watching a public service announcement for Alzheimer’s than experiencing contemporary dance. There was enough dialogue for the performance to qualify as a college lecture. And a dry lecture at that. I’ve questioned this before but it’s worth repeating here, “What’s up with everyone asking dancers to deliver lines?” The dancers are seldom good at it and it just distracts them from dancing. Maybe it’s time to shut up and dance.
You may think I’m exaggerating about the PSA-like nature of this presentation. But at a panel discussion afterwards, the choreographer announced that the show will be traveling to New York City for a future performance. And guess who’s sponsoring the whole deal? A large pharmaceutical company about to release a new Alzheimer’s drug. Seriously, have the drug companies taken over the world?
Lest you think I’m just being snarky, I should say that the performance was not all bad. The music was great. The soundtrack was a combination of recorded and live music. The live music was original and performed by the composers, Aaron Chavez and Thomas Priest. It's amazing how much musical variation can be generated from a percussionist and a guy with a piano and a bassoon. Mr. Chavez gets extra points for some nifty marimba work and a dazzling performance on the hubcaps.
But even superior music couldn’t elevate the rest of the performance to greatness. And in the end, “demolition derby” is an accurate description of a show that's obvious and little banged up.