Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Casual Evening With Two Dance Legends

Theatre Gigante’s ISADORA AND NIJINSKI a very relaxed evening with three people—two of whom were portrying legends of 20th century dance.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Theatre Gigante continued to show a playful sense of diversity in its programming this past weekend. The company has a delightful penchant for staging dazzling, little one-weekend shows that evaporate into memory almost as soon as they open. The latest show, staged at Studio 508 in UWM’s Kenilworth Building, was a celebration of the lives of the two of the most legendary figures in contemporary dance.

It was a bare stage in the intimate Studio 508 space. The back of the stage was illuminated by a moving video tapestry of the work of the late Milwaukee-based artist Schomer Lichtner. Lichtner’s work was translated into “projected scenery,” by Iain Court and Bethany Armstrong. It somewhat gracefully cascaded across the background as the show’s authors performed the piece.

Theatre Gigante co-founder Mark Anderson played the show’s host, a gentleman helping the two characters tell the story of their lives in what had been quite successfully desingned to feel like a semi-formal “meet the artists” event somewhere between here and the past. Rather than being a blanket aceless persona, Anderson came across as a host with subtle charm and personality that held theshow together and kept it from crawling uncomfortably across the stage,

Theatre Gigante co-founder Isabelle Kralj played the role of Isadora Duncan. Kralj’s Duncan played to the full scope of dancer/choreographer’s diva personality without growing too large as to seem cloying. The brilliance here is that Duncan wouldn’’tve felt the need to win over an audience years after she had come to be considered the woman who single-handedly created modern dance. There’s really no one to impress, so she casually has a conversation in an intimate studio theatre space. It may not have lived-up to the legend of who Duncan was, but it so much of a legend is placed on an individual from the weight of history. Kralj took the legend and made it seem like a casual, every day thing—a woman you didn’t mind hanging out with in a theatre for a brief part of an evening.

UWM Dance Department Chair Ed Burgess played the role of Vaslav Nijinsky—though not exactly as universally known as Duncan, Nijinsky is considered by many to be the greatest male dancer of 20th century. Burgess has a charming presence on and offstage, which goes a long way toward keeping the show at the kind of casually hushed level of conversation that kept the overall show from feeling stilted or awkward. Nijinsky was something of a companion diva that fits well onstage contrasted against Duncan. In lieu of any representation of the art that made them famous, we end up getting a conversation between two old friends who happen to both be towering legends in the art form, which was a fun evening of studio theatre.

Isadora & Nijinsky lacked a bit of the poetry and grace that has come to characterize Gigante’s shows, but any attempt at that in relationship to a show like this would’ve felt cheap—it would’ve coated the stage with a paper-thin reverence that didn’t also have the good sense to be a solidly entertaining show beyond the tribute. As a result, Gigante’s efforts here show yet another brief glimpse into the diversity that Theatre Gigante has come to distinguish itself with.

Theatre Gigante’s next one-weekend-only show will be a production of Conor McPherson’s The Good Thief June 9th-11th at Paddy’s Pub on 2339 North Murray Avenue. For reservations, call 414-961-6119.

 

 

(And on a personal note, I had received a text message from my wife as I walked out of Studio 508. My wife was going into labor. UWM's Kenilworth Building was a brief walk from the hospital where my wife was to give birth to our daughter: Amalia Simone Bickerstaff. After seeing the story of two lives in a studio theatre, I went off to aid my wife in bringing another into the world. The Gigante show ended up being the perfect prelude to childbirth.)

 

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