By Christian Viveros-FaunĂ©
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
In Irving Berlin's 1949 Broadway hit, Annie Get Your Gun, Ethel Merman as 1890s sharpshooter Annie Oakley wrangled with Frank Butler (Ray Middleton), the star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He mused that the girl he'd call his own "would wear satins and laces and smell of cologne." She belted out. "Anything you can do, I can do better." Seven years after the cowgirl wannabe heroine of Agnes de Mille's ballet Rodeo had to exchange her trousers for petticoats to get the guys at the corral to see her, Berlin's Annie discovered that "You can't get a man with a gun."
David Parker is a musical comedy buff, but he's also a keen satirist. In ShowDown, presented for the second year in a row by DanceNow, he transforms Annie's songs into a small-scale riot of gender sabotage and polymorphous sexual goings-on, with an occasional reference to ballet classics (a glimpse of Petipa's little swanslinked and caperingreinvented by men in jeans and checked shirts; a sly behind-the-back handshake by two conspiratorial buddies that alludes to Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free; a bravura, Russian-style, one-handed lift with Jeffrey Kazin as the "ballerina").
The songs come to us via recordings made by Judy Garland and Howard Keel, before Garland pulled out of the 1950 movie of Annie and was replaced by Betty Hutton. Keel sounds brash and a bit humorless, but Garland is wonderfully spunky, without forfeiting her unique honey-gold warmth. Parker avoids Annie's plot, but his dances recreate the show's atmosphere of challenge and competition through which loveah, love!swoonily emerges. A Bang Group woman may look momentarily taken aback to find the man she was just dancing with in the arms of another fellow, but she shrugs it off and either leaves or joins the fun. "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" begins with Amber Sloan, Nic Petry, and Kazin joining their mouths in a three-way kiss. Megan Flynn, lying on Terry Duncan's bent-over back, reaches out to stroke Kazin's cheek.
Since one of the musical's memorable songs is "There's No Business Like Show Business," Parker and his collaborators also take note of Broadway pizzazz via a few "ta-da!" endings, a tilting pinwheel formation, and so on. But he's adroit at having performers enter through the eating, drinking audience to infiltrate a number or pop up from the lower depths behind Joe's Pub's tiny red stage. And while I could wish for more solo or duet moments, I appreciate the fact that the action rarely pauses. Gay encounters morph seamlessly into straight ones, and back. Parker's adroit at making up steps too; the foot action is lively, and the entanglements ingenious (Kazin gets a hand for his spiral slide down the body of another manmaybe Bryan Campbell). The Wild West allusionsthe faintly bow-legged saunter, the leg thrown over an invisible horsetake on a cheeky edge. When Marissa Palley, collapsed on the floor, suddenly bumps her hips up into a backbend position and a guy mounts her facing the rear and waving an imaginary hat or lariat, you get a very tricky image (this maneuver is something of a motif).
By way of a politically meaningful encore, Parker and Kazin sing (and tap dance) "Old-Fashioned Wedding," a song added to the 1966 Lincoln Center revival of Annie. In this clever adaptation, the musical's themes of rivalry assume a sweeter, friskier tone, with the men reversing their opposed wedding plans in the final contrapuntal burst.
Another bonus this time around: the shenanigans of "hosts" Monica Bill Barnes and Deborah Lohse. They don't exactly make us feel at home, although Lohse eventually and grudgingly hauls out a "Welcome" sign. Wearing vests over droopy red long-johns, they're gruff, silent partnerssorry, pardnerstoddling stiffly around while Johnny Cash and family sing warm-hearted ole songs. Barnesslitty-eyed and quick on the triggerand Lohse, lanky and noodle-limbed with a rubbery, Carol Burnett facemake a hilarious duo, and, you know what? They dance purty durn well too. We're glad to see them return for a coda in which they bully a spectator and then the whole cast.
We've been here before. The quiet babel of voices in several languages from people sitting at mikes around a table is familiar from Yoshiko Chuma's 2002 n=3.14. The large metal-framework cubes that Ralph Lee designed for her appeared in her 2007 A Page Out of Order: M and in earlier pieces of hers (including one for the Irish company, Dagda, which she directed from 2002 to 2003). At Saint Mark's, one of the films we see in her Not About Romanian Cinema: POONARC (Milchio Manchevski's 1995 Before the Rain) was also shown during the 2007 work. In fact, this latest piece is part of an ongoing series featuring performances and installations that Chuma has been working on since 2001 and expects to continue with until 2011.
Chuma considers herself a citizen of the world, and she turns a penetrating and concerned eye on societies in turmoil and on the depredations of war. Some of her earlier pieces investigated the tensions between life in the U.S. and the postwar Japan she grew up in. She has developed pieces in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Transylvania, among other places, and presented them in various forms. For the last month, she and her performers have been traveling through Romania. In each place, she collaborates with new performers, filmmakers, and musicians. Dancing barely appears in some of these works, yet you watch them as if you're peering into an untidy, unstable, volatile world of motion, where something can explode at any minute. The shreds of peace and understanding that Chuma looks for are so fragile that weaving them together might be dangerous. Like dancing on a volcano's rim.