Tuesday, June 16, 2009

He’s back. And he’s just crazy enough to take on The Nutcracker.

That’s right. It’s the return of Stephen Brown and SBDance. And this year for his annual dance/theater/performance event, he’s taking on The Nutcracker in Drosselmeyer Inc.: The Untold Story Behind the Nutcracker Ballet. Stephen delivers a show that’s unexpected, inventive, irreverent, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Here’s the idea as explained by Stephen: “So last Fall I was driving to Wendover to teach yoga at a chicken ranch when I ran out of gas and had to hike across the Salt Flats for more fuel. Some would say it was destiny; others would say chance; a few would say a dirty lie. But in any case, I stumbled across a major archaeological find—the Prequel to the Nutcracker Ballet. Long story short, it's now June, a perfect time for a Christmas show, and my translation is complete.”

That translation results in a story that is light on dancing but has plenty of humor and story. As a big dance fan, I miss the dance spectacles of SBDances past. But it turns out that Stephen is almost as a good a writer as he is a choreographer. Almost.

There are only four performers in this year’s show but the clever addition of sock puppets (yes, I said sock puppets) makes the cast feel bigger. And don’t get hung up on the sock puppet idea. If you’d told me about this part of the show before hand, I would have rolled my eyes and suggested that SBDance had jumped the shark. But the sock puppets are charming in a creepy sort of way and they give the show a fun, bed-timey vibe.

The abbreviated plot: A group of Drosselmeyer’s dolls work through personal issues leading up to the annual Clara competition, where the winning doll gets to spend the night with Clara in what one is led to believe is The Nutcracker Ballet. Ham (brilliantly short for Hamlet) is the suspiciously gay, naughty thespian who shares the spotlight with the other “special” doll Frenchie, who regularly breaks into song. Tex is the cowboy who gets no respect. And even Mikhail Baryshnikov makes an appearance.

The cast includes Stephen as sexy Tex, a cowboy doll complete with chaps and hat.
(Stephen is also writer, director, and choreographer.) Paul Mulder handily plays Hamlet and one of the sock puppets. Kim Cote is perfect as Frenchie and the other sock puppet. And Ballet West’s Kate Crews gives the best hip-hop ballet performance I’ve ever seen. More hip-hop ballet please.

As a dance geek, my favorite moment of the show is the inventive, dimly-lit pas de duex danced by Tex and T-Rot. It all happens in the shadows while Frenchie steals the spotlight serenading the audience. This is classic Stephen Brown, where he forces you to see something by obscuring that very thing.

I also loved the first time we see T-Rot. It’s a fleeting moment but completely iconic—something I expect from every SBDance performance.

Two other people deserve a shout out: Chris Larson’s costumes are stunning and Stephanie Slade’s lighting is nearly perfect, helping to make the sock puppets brilliant when they could have been stupid.

Sure Drosselmeyer, Inc. has some rough edges. But I think that’s because Stephen, as usual, is exploring boundaries. This is a perfect evening out. But hurry. Of all the art in Salt Lake City, nothing is more ephemeral than the works of Stephen Brown. While you’ll likely never forget the performances (remember those amazing newspaper piles in Scampdance?), you’ll get very few chances to see this show again.

Drosselmeyer, Inc. is a bargain at $15 a ticket and can be seen for only three more performances on June 19, 20, and 21.

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