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Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

Finding the Fun in ‘What’s So Funny?’

Danceworks puts on a show

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An array of skills and a generous sense of humor are on display in “What’s So Funny?,” an original variety show by Danceworks Performance Company (DPC) and the comedy-improv group The Show. The evening includes song and dance numbers, sketches and three video pieces, all created and performed by the combined groups, whose members all dance, sing and act in the show.

I laughed quite a lot, and smiled even more, but if you’re new to the work of DPC, you could be forgiven for wondering what to make of this amount of silliness. In choreographic terms, it doesn’t touch their best work. It’s not even their funniest—that prize belongs to Dani Kuepper’s mash-up of Rodgers and Hammerstein and H.P. Lovecraft several years ago. But a high level of entertainment is sustained. While several strong pieces deserve stronger endings, nothing falls flat. It’s smart, sweet, unpretentious, and there are memorable wigs.

It opens with a ballet class. The dancers practice along four barres placed across the stage. Suddenly, they become flippers in a game of foosball played by The Show’s Doug Jarecki and Matt Huebsch. Since bodies-as-flippers send the ball in uncontrolled directions, everybody improvises.

Bach
, choreographed by Kuepper, best addressed for me the question of the concert’s title. To classical piano, eight women and four men perform odd, fishlike movements with deadpan commitment that somehow becomes funnier and funnier as they repeat the movements, expand them, trade places and take brief solos in a theme and variations arrangement, ending in a unison passage that restates the full peculiar movement vocabulary.

Dialogue is introduced in Eulogy, a sketch written by Jarecki featuring a brilliant comic turn by The Show’s Andrea Moser as the ghost of an interpretive dance legend. There are fine comic performances by The Show’s Karen Estrada and Jason Powell, and Powell contributes two gleeful show tunes, one of them impressively sung by DPC’s Christal Wagner. All the DPC women give strong performances. Melissa Anderson is mesmerizing in a Mission: Impossible sketch. Guest dancer/actor Alberto Cambra creates an endearing silent-movie clown. There are fart jokes, pee jokes, a Black Swan parody and lots of sheer absurdity.

7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 12-13 at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. For more information, call 414-277-8480, ext. 6025, or visit www.danceworksmke.org.