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Steve Sucato
Performance Reviews
New Hazlett Theater
United States
Pittsburgh, PA
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Dance Alloy Theater - Exposed

by Steve Sucato
April 3, 2009
New Hazlett Theater
6 Allegheny Square East
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
It is known as Bunraku in Japan. It is a form of traditional puppet theatre using life-size puppets where the audience sees the puppeteers. In Dance Alloy Theater artistic director/choreographer Beth Corning's latest creation "4-2 Men", she employs a version of Bunraku using dancers Christopher Bandy and Michael Walsh as puppets, and Stephanie Dumaine and Maribeth Maxa as their manipulators.

Bandy and Walsh are costumed as young schoolboys in neckties and shorts carrying lunch pails. They are not puppets tethered to strings, nor are they completely lifeless. Dumaine and Maxa (costumed head to toe in black) dragged them about the stage by handles affixed to their backs and positioned them in poses like action figures. Bandy and Walsh however, unlike traditional puppets, moved, thought, and felt emotion for themselves as well.

The 30-minute "4-2 Men" set to music by Kodo and Rinde Eckert was a somewhat somber reflection on the transition from boyhood to adolescence. Corning's choreography presented several points of view from that of the puppet boys to an implied view from their manipulators — a.k.a their mothers.

After establishing the work's metaphoric premise, the piece dwelled too long on the mechanics of the puppetry and the shifting of bodies about the stage which made for dry viewing. The piece did however present several captivating moments such as when Bandy's character is prodded into an encounter with a girl portrayed by Adrienne Misko. Misko, seated on the shoulders of another dancer and wearing an elegant gown that covered them both appeared to Bandy as most girls to young boys; taller and beautifully ominous. After coming down off the shoulders of her partner, Misko and Bandy waltzed together in a touching moment of youthful nervousness and discovery.

Another memorable moment came in another waltzing duet of sorts in which Walsh's character danced with a small stiff-armed wooden puppet he imagined as his female companion. Walsh was brilliant paying the puppet gentleman-like courtesy such as bowing to it and asking it for a dance as well as singing opera to it. Walsh whirled the puppet around and in the air making it, like his puppet character, appear to have control of its own motion.

Next a quartet of Alloy's female dancers (including Corning) performed Victoria Marks' signature work "Dancing to Music" (1988). The mostly gestured modern dance work set to music by Wim Mertens, was a succession of head turns and arm movements with the four women standing close to one another along a horizontal line facing the audience. The work's emotional draw came in the feelings each dancer tossed at each other with a snap of their head or intent gaze out into the distance. As a group the dancers related a sense of closeness and caring each character had for one another that was heartfelt and revealing.

The final work on Alloy's program was the world premiere of Nora Chipaumire's "Becoming Angels".

Almost like a religious fire-and-brimstone artwork sprung to life, Chipaumire's 35-minute piece let loose a torrent of familiar expressions of faith, persecution, and throwing oneself at the mercy of God.

Set to an original composition by Fabrice Bouillon-LaForest that sounded as if it might be a soundtrack to purgatory, the work's five dancers engaged in aggressive and often violent choreography meant to exorcise their inner demons and obtain peace and redemption. Alloy's dancers attacked Chipaumire's choreography with abandon and passion.

As if in a group therapy session, each dancer took on a character with some sort of malady needing fixing, such as a shaking guilt-ridden man or a woman that appeared to be trying to exorcise a sexual addiction.

The work as a whole was powerful and contained several striking visual moments along with some interesting unison dancing, but its clichéd use of religious imagery and attempts at high drama at times felt a bit over-the-top.
Dance Alloy Theater's Adrienne Misko

Dance Alloy Theater's Adrienne Misko

Photo © & courtesy of Frank Walsh

Dance Alloy Theater

Dance Alloy Theater

Photo © & courtesy of Frank Walsh

Dance Alloy Theater

Dance Alloy Theater

Photo © & courtesy of Frank Walsh

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