Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I went to a dance performance and all I got was this lousy PowerPoint.

These days I hate writing bad reviews because more people have started paying attention to my blog. And I’m not the type of person that likes to talk smack. But sometimes you gotta tell it like you see it.

At least I can start with the good: The first half of Repertory Dance Theatre’s (RDT) recent program, Elements. It was a nifty little review of dance from the past 40 years. Earth (1969) by choreographer Paul Sanasardo is surprisingly current. Created especially for RDT, the work “explores the gradual evolution of man’s technology and asks to what extent man’s intricate technology will evolve?” I don’t think you could ask a question more relevant to 2009. And kudos to guest dancer Robert Goodman. Usually the outsiders seem distanced. But Goodman was spectacular.

Rainwood (1977) by choreographer Ze’eva Cohen used the sounds of birds, frogs, and insects to create a backdrop for some sterling movement. The strangeness of the soundtrack melded with the dance to create an ecological postcard, a reminder of our responsibility to the environment. Once again, it was a perfectly current statement.

And then there was The Lady of the Lake (2004) choreographed by Francie Lloyd and performed by M. Colleen Hoelscher. Let’s start with Hoelsher. Wow! This was a performance, stunningly danced with controlled athleticism and precision. I loved the moments danced on the razor thin edges of the water tank. And it can’t be easy dancing on a wet stage. Which brings me to the water. I’m not sure why we don’t see more dancers splashing around on stage because well-lit moving water is a great effect. And combined with great choreography, it’s down right spectacular. [A side note: I was disappointed to see the three front rows of the theater empty. As a former performing-arts marketer, I would have made a big publicity deal out of the splash zone. After all, the only other shows I’ve been to with splash zones are Cirque du Soleil’s O and the Blue Man Group. And this splash zone didn’t just feature water, there was rice too. See below.]

Then things took a turn for the worse. The second half of the show started with Artistic/Executive Director Linda C. Smith offering a PowerPoint presentation. Yes, I said PowerPoint presentation. And this wasn’t even a good PowerPoint presentation. The opening slide featured the RDT logo with absolutely zero clear space and it was so pixilated it would have been more at home in a game of Pac Man. And there was plenty of clunky type and awkward wording. I know I work in advertising and I’m probably more sensitive to this stuff than most. But representing your organization this poorly is just plain unprofessional.

Even the content was lackluster. This was all part of RDT’s Green Map Project: A new community building initiative choreographed by Zvi Gotheiner (Zvi, say it isn’t so!) and RDT Dancers. When you have to spend this much time trying to explain a performance, it’s a good sign that you might want to reconsider the whole project. Save these boring, instructional lectures for the fifth graders. No wait, don’t show this to the school kids, they may never attend another dance performance. Maybe the dancing that followed was OK, but I was so stunned by the PowerPoint presentation (yes, I said PowerPoint presentation), that it all left me cold to the point of shivering.

The final work on the program was Ghost Ship (2007) choreographed by Eric Handman. The staging for this work was beautiful and involved 120 pounds of rice falling from high above the stage, like an hourglass counting down the minutes. Neither the choreography, nor the dancing lived up to the theatrical staging. But I’m guessing dancing on rice in bare feet isn’t a whole lot of fun.

I’m a fan so I’ll be back for RDT’s next performance. Hopefully without the PowerPoint.

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