Theater archives

Girl Group


The Seattle-based ensemble 33 Fainting Spells, which showed Maria the Storm Cloud at Dance Theater Workshop, has its finger on the cultural zeitgeist as few American dance theater groups do. Composed of two unrelated, thirtyish women with the same last name (Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson), accompanied on this outing by a third, Peggy Piacenza, the company strikes the same chord of absurd, affectionate disaffection that we hear on late-night television or in the work of experimental performers like Elevator Repair Service.

Maria, about an hour long broken by an intermission, is a series of thwarted efforts at self-presentation. The women lip-synch each other’s intimate thoughts, they share martinis in a bar, they try talking while chewing saltines.

Interspersed with these deadpan efforts are moments of stunning imagery, as when the three writhe on stools upstage, their bare backs facing us. Also moments of comedy, as when they whip out blue plastic ponchos for a turn in the “rain” (they pour water on each other). Lara Wilder’s production design supports and emphasizes the storm metaphors.

The score, a collage of symphonic, operatic, experimental, and lounge music, amplifies the bittiness of the structure, and that bittiness is what finally defeats the piece, leaving us amused but also confused. What has all this fuss been about? What, if any, transformation has taken place? They were brat grrrls at the beginning, nude behind cardboard cutout clouds, and they’re brat grrrls at the end.

I may be old-fashioned (or just old), but I still look for a dramatic arc in the theater, an accumulation of physical, emotional, or mental energy that will move and thrill me, as did The Uninvited, 33 Fainting Spells’ last work seen in New York. Maria, which they claim charts “the halting progress of our own personalities,” indicates that these women can do just about anything; it also demonstrates a miniaturization of ambition.