Near a café I like to visit in Saigon’s First District, I sometimes spot two Cambodian kids, brothers of about 6 and 8, who are performers of the old-school style. Dressed in garish, spangled, handmade costumes at once too big and too small, they specialize in the classic sideshow arts: fire-breathing, snake-swallowing, hot-coal-eating, and the like. All of it punctuated with standing backflips and other acrobatics, which performed on the side of a motorbike-packed street in Saigon is a death-defying act in itself. After a typical ten-minute sidewalk show, they walk through the seated café crowd soliciting tips. I’m always tempted to give them a big bill, something special for the effort, but I’m worried one of them will try to staple it to his forehead for an encore.
I was reminded of these boys last night at the Spoleto premiere for the Australian group Circa, which calls its physical style of performance art “a celebration of the expressive possibilities of the human body at its extremes.” Their show comprises its own category in the Spoleto program guide — “Circus Arts” — as it clearly defies easy categorization into any of the others, though it flirts with many. Acrobatics, theater, gymnastics, breakdancing, mime, freakshow, muscle-man contest, and yes, circus. One may as well include the cheerleading arts, for all the tossing, pitching, and catapulting the seven sculpted members of Circa do to each other.
The show, which has no listed name other than that of the group itself, runs through eight short scenes, all of them wordless, many of them performed to an eclectic selection of music — Cake, Sigur Rós, Nine Inch Nails, ambient techno, French café music, and what sounded like a Radiohead cover by Tori Amos. Often they took place in complete silence. These extraordinary scenes were linked by a narrative thread that suggested bodies that were not in the control of their owners, as if the eyes and minds of these actors were bolted on to automatons made of silly putty and steel which operate independently of their owners. Beneath this was a motif that surfaced repeatedly: the need for physical contact and touch, which all too often is unfulfilled or rejected.
The result was a marvel visually, intellectually, and theatrically. Circa excels at flashy acrobatics — three men standing atop each other’s shoulders, a girl spinning seven steel hoops, the seven artists hurling each other around the room like ragdolls. But they also make the most of small, carefully acted moments, as when one man, who looked as if he’d just walked off the cover of Men’s Fitness, used two fingers to narrative a wordless story, in total silence, of a man walking down his arm. It was how a father might perform for a child, if the father then went on to do a handstand on the two fingers.
In a canny scene near the show’s end, one of the men lay on the floor in a rectangular frame of light the size of a double bed. When a woman emerged onto the stage wearing a pair of stiletto-heeled red shoes, the audience gasped. We knew what was coming. On the same stage where Kneehigh Theatre’s Red Shoes become an instrument of torture and mutilation for their owner, another pair of red shoes were used to no less harrowing effect, but the result here was a nuanced metaphor for how we so often hurt the ones we love the most. We bend, we pull, we poke and throw and push and mangle, but they accept it, they keep coming back asking for more. As we all do. More please. Oh yes, more. More.
If you ever want to sober up from an acid trip, Lemon Andersen recommends getting chewed out by your girlfriend's mother. If you're carrying a concealed gun and your trip is of the Papa Smurf variety, well, so much the better. Andersen knows this from personal experience, a story he relates in a narrative mashup of hip-hop-suffused rhythm, rhyme, and true crime neatly woven together with a physical performance that's equal parts modern dance, sashay, electric slide, and swagger.
At the Emmett Robinson Theatre for last night's premiere, Andersen — or Andy as he refers to himself in his lyrical 80-minute biography — inhabited not only his own youthful Puerto Rican self growing up in a fatherless Queens, N.Y. apartment with a heroin junkie mother who contracts HIV, but the whole neighborhood as well, which ultimately includes his pals at Rikers Island, where he was incarcerated for stealing cars and selling drugs. This cast includes his mother Millie, his car-stealing stepfather Charo, his one-eyed neighbor Miss Judy, Grandma Mammi, an instructor at Feld Ballet School, his girlfriend Lillie who loses her virginity to him (in a funny, poignantly rendered re-enactment), and at one point, God, who is revealed to be a spiteful, foul-mouthed Puerto Rican who delights in torturing His creations with fun little plagues like poverty, drugs, AIDS, and Chuck-E-Cheese.
Andersen flows around like stage like mercury, graceful as a cat, slipping into and out of characters from his life, his story a kinetic, balletic narrative that, line by lovingly crafted line, peels back the brittle external carapace of his youthful circumstances to reveal a very human heart, one that worships Andy Gibb as "the hippest white man in the world," and exults in Soul Train and American Bandstand.
It's hard not to make comparisons to hip-hop performance artist and character actor Danny Hoch, who was here in 2006. But Anderson's eye is focused inward rather than out upon the world, and his technique is more about poetry than portraiture.
Following his release from prison, Andersen happens on a poetry slam which hits him like a revelation: "All this rhythm and rhyme without a single breakbeat to use as an audible." Andersen's life here does have a soundtrack, which includes as much disco , Bee-Gees, and "Ring My Bell" as it does hip-hop, but the breakbeat is all his own.
This just in from the Spoleto offices: the National Ballet of Georgia's Giselle will have a major line-up change.
We're still waiting for the details, but apparently the male lead (who, last we heard, was to be played by Irakli Bakhtadze and Vasil Akhmeteliwas on different nights) was injured, and then his replacement was injured. Which leads us to wonder what kind of ballet they do over there in Georgia, and also, who will be the new replacement? We're taking bets in the comments section. And we'll let you know as soon as we're updated.
Update: The Georgian-born David Makhateli, a powerhouse principal dancer with London's Royal Ballet, will step into the role of Albrecht. He's replacing Irakli Bakhtadze and Davit Karapetyan. He has played Albrecht for other companies in the past. He'll dance in the matinee performances on June 12 and 13. As scheduled, Vasil Akhmeteli will portray Albrecht opposite Nina Ananiashvili in the two evening performances.
The Dance at Noon Series wraps up on Sun. June 6 with an encore performance from Robert Ivey Ballet. The series has featured noon-time performances every day at the Footlight Players' Theatre. Hailing from all over the Southeast, featured acts have included E.E. Motion Dance Company, Great Gig Dance Company, Unbound Dance Company, and Dancentre South Company.
Robert Ivey Ballet also performed on Thurs. June 3. The company's founder and artistic director Robert Ivey got a lot of buzz earlier in the festival as the mentor of Robert Carter of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Check them out to see if he has any more stars in the making. Tickets are $16, $13 for seniors and students.
While that series will soon be gone, along with Spoleto's Lucinda Childs' Dance, there are still options for dance fans. Most of Charleston Ballet Theatre's shows run through the end of the festival. And classical ballet fans won't want to miss the National Ballet of Georgia's Giselle, which opens June 11. Though to be honest, we're most looking forward to Oyster, which opens June 10. Performed by the Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company of Israel, Oyster incorporates acting, classical ballet, flying rigs, clowning, circus tricks, and freak show visuals.
Every morning the Charleston Ballet dancers warm-up their plies and grands battements to a pianist's live accompaniment. When show time rolls around, the baby grand piano is quarantined to the CBT's lobby area, where ticket holders can admire it before stepping around it to their final destination their seats in the black box theater.
However, this year, Kyle Barnette, administrative director of the Charleston Ballet Theater, had an idea to coax his attendees into sticking around the lobby a bit longer: he's hired (for free) local talents and longtime friends Jordan Alexander and Brenda LeFevre to dazzle the keys of that baby grand for a short spell before several Piccolo performances. Alexander will bang out some ragtime tunes appropriately prepping audiences for The Great Gatsby, and he'll give a mini- Beatles concert before Magical Mystery Tour. LeFevre will fill the lobby with show tunes 'til the show time of (you guessed it) Lullaby of Broadway. Excellent use of space and resources, if you ask me.
Last thing I wanted to mention: Mr. Kyle Barnette is a tad unhappy about the CBT's Buzz-o-meters in this week's City Paper. While I lack the power to recant our starring system (though I can explain: the stars represent surrounding "buzz," not the quality of the act); I am responsible for a comment concerning the "steep ticket prices" of tried and true CBT classic Brown Bag & Ballet. I was, believe it or not, of accord with Mr. Barnette when he said on the phone this morning, "Yeah, ticket prices are steep, but they're well worth it!" Gotta respect the man's need to voice his opinion (and, I might meekly add, freedom of the press). He stands by his product, as he should, and as I pointed out, all the more reason to rock out in tomorrow's premiere performance at noon of Brown Bag, followed by "Magical Mystery Tour (7 p.m.) that same night. My apologies a dancer my whole life, I love our local ballet!