writers on dancing


Cherchez la Derriere:
“Can Can” at Joe’s Pub

The Public Theater
New York, New York
February 4, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright © 2005 by Tom Phillips

Sex and humor were the dominant themes of Friday’s dancemOpolitan series opener, in the cabaret setting of Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. Nowhere are these two ingredients combined more lovingly than in the French language, so maybe it was no coincidence that the two tastiest items on the menu were set to French pop music.

Laura Peterson’s “Can Can” is an ironical essay on the birds and the bees, with two women and one man all dressed in bug-like costumes by Michael McKowen: pink and black horizontal striped tights with frilly ruffled panties sticking out behind. These tail feathers are the center of attraction as the trio go through what looks like a mating dance, with the male showing off, drawing dubious looks and then sidling-up gestures from his prospective mates, choreographer Peterson and Adele Berne. They all exit crawling in line, following each others’ “cans,” to a Gallic ditty with the refrain “je cherche un homme.”

Another ironical essay was an inside-out striptease performed by Mary Suk, to a song entitled “Les Lolos.” She starts out as a robotic, harried office worker-type in a straight-backed chair, then liberates herself in stages: first the jacket comes off, then the shoes, then the bra, slipped out from under a black dress. Then another bra, then another, then another! At least ten bras are shed, the last few in a chain, the kind prisoners make to break out through the window. And the finale does not disappoint.

Elsewhere on the program the humor was darker. Wendy Osserman’s “Gringo Mambo” is a herky–jerky mock attempt at Latin dancing by three ladies in flowing red dresses and frozen Kabuki-type masks. “Patriot Act Up” by Sara Hook is a chilling post-9/11 version of “Stars and Stripes.” Mary Cochran plays a cute majorette dancing to a Sousa march with sounds of fireworks in the background. Increasingly desperate and disjointed, she whips out a flag, then a brown baby doll which she stomps to the floor, then a pistol which she fires at the audience. This was convincingly danced by a performer whose anxious, angelic face is as expressive as her body.

Maybe the oddest item in this fast-paced festival in ten acts was a little ballet travesty by Erico Villanueva, called “Beyond the Forest Revisited.” He and Rachel Frank perform a painful pas de deux with costumes askew and expressions to match. To music by Humperdinck, they seem to be Hansel and Gretel trying to find their way through the forest with classical ballet steps. But they don’t, and the music fades into a courtroom report about a suicidal victim of domestic abuse. The choreography is reminiscent of the ever-popular Trockaderos, but with a darker intent. This is not an “affectionate spoof” of ballet, but an attack on its philosophical basis, i.e. the reality or promise of an ideal realm. Still it lasted only about five minutes, which allowed even a hardcore balletomane to treat it as just a divertissement.

Also on the program was a high-energy hip-hop group called Shantidance, and a couple of romantic or mock-romantic pieces for solo male dancers, a difficult genre to sell. Continuity and jokes were provided by Doug Elkins, a manic but generally likable host, who offered a little solo of his own. The tattooed Elkins showed masterful control of his potbelly and pectorals, undulating and shaking them in a wife-beater undershirt. Just the thing for Super Bowl weekend.

The DancemOpolitan series returns to Joe’s Pub for the first weekends of March, May, June and November.

Mary Cochran in Sara Hook's "Patriot Act Up" Photo by Steve Schreiber

Volume 3, No. 5
February 7, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by Tom Phillips


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last updated on January 31, 2005