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Monday, Nov. 2, 2009

Theatre Gigante’s ‘Night at the Movies’

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First separately, then together in Milwaukee Dance Theatre, and now as married co-directors of Theatre Gigante, choreographer/dancer Isabelle Kralj and writer/performer Mark Anderson have been invaluable pioneers in forging a unique hybrid of dance and theater in Milwaukee. Their work is always intellectually and sensually engaging and, while playful and witty, a serious experiment with the variables of live performance. They’ve worked with some of Milwaukee’s most significant performing artists (and also with me, many times in years past), as well as distinguished guests from out of town. They’re doing all of that in their first show this season, called “A Night at the Movies.” As in the golden age of moviegoing, it includes a feature and a short.

The feature is 7 (x1) Samurai, a one-man, mask-mime-dance-theater adaptation of Kurosawa’s great film Seven Samurai, created and performed by Anderson’s college friend David Gaines. Gaines went on to study physical theater techniques at the prestigious Ecole Jacques Lecoqin Paris, then formed a company in London called Moving Picture Mime Show that toured Europe for 10 years, until Lecoq invited him to join his faculty and Gaines became professor of mask and movement at the famous Paris school. He returned to the States to teach in the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and then joined the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit based in D.C., where he now lives.

Anderson and Gaines reconnected at their college reunion and, at Kralj’s instigation, began to dream and plan on the spot. So, while Gaines introduces his work to Milwaukee, the three will start on a new show for future presentation here. Judging from video clips, Gaines’ technique is very advanced and the piece is very funny. According to Anderson, you need not know the movie in advance; you’ll see it all in his performance.

The short is Malcolm’s Tulip’s …and…Action! Tulip is a dancer-clown-theater artist who also studied at Lecoq, and now teaches theater at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. A former guest of Gigante, he wrote this 30-minute piece following a week of improvisations and interviews with the performers, who include, along with Kralj and Anderson, my longtime partner in Theatre X, John Kishline.

Inspired by Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, it’s a kaleidoscopic, nonlinear look into the vulnerable psyches of three actors waiting to audition for a movie, thinking, talking and rehearsing lines. According to Kralj, Tulip took many lines verbatim from the interviews, so the performers have to reconnect with the sources of their own words.

“A Night at the Movies” will play at the Off-Broadway Theatre, 342 N. Water St., 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 5-7.

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