Glen Rumsey’s little virtue could be about extreme makeovers, being fabulous, or gender breakdown. Maybe all of the above. This bright, mildly chaotic 50-minute work may not shake you up, but it certainly charms you. Rumsey is not only a fine male performer who once graced Merce Cunningham’s company; he’s also Shasta Cola, a gorgeous and funny drag queen. In little virtue, concert dance and nightclub styles mate.
The piece opens in darkness. Figures strut along the perimeters of the space; their hand-held flashlights reveal high heels, short skirts, and wild hair. When they shed their shoes to dance, they look like an orderly swarm of fireflies. But, as Carol Mullins’s playful lighting eventually reveals, they’re men and women, dressed alike in David Quinn’s elaborately seamed and ballooned tunics. Legs apart, hips swaying, they fix us with come-hither stares before turning their backs, plopping onto their bellies, and inching away.
Appearances are a big topic. Raquel Cion, attired like a flamboyant fortune-teller, pulls out a small, old book and reads advice to a young girl about avoiding affectation. This leads to a scampy section, in which Rumsey, Eric Bounds, and Jean Freebury try to steal the abstract rag dolls that Arnie Apostol, Banu Ogan, and Katherine Nauman (all now wigless and in filmy, black-trimmed white tunics) carry strapped to their backs. One sweet moment: Apostol and Ogan listen gently for a heartbeat from their supine “babies” while a voice sings, “Where’s your mama gone?”
In an interpolated duet from Exquisite Corpse, choreographed and performed by Rumsey and Todd Williams, these terrific dancers whip around and flash their legs out as they extricate themselves from what look like high-style burial wrappings and a mess of hair and feathers. The others, including Makram Hamdam, hobble stiffly in, wearing designer hospital smocks printed with cats. Fluorescent footlights highlight their clear plastic head bandages and the pads that augment their buttocks. But seconds later, they’re self-confident in little black dresses with appliquéd wings; Dionne Warwick sings “Don’t Make Me Over.” Irony intended?
I haven’t mentioned the dancing. There’s a lot of it—handsome, space-covering steps, with feet that point and legs that kick high. It’s always a treat to watch Freebury and Ogan, whether they’re strutting their stuff or having a brief fit up in the church balcony. Bounds shines in a solo. Dancers this gleamingly expert give a whole other meaning to the term makeover: They carved those beautiful legs themselves by hard work and devotion, with no help from a cosmetic surgeon’s knife.