Shakespeare, Supersized

Larry Goldhuber manages to add both snap and heft to “Julius Caesar”

As a member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Larry Goldhuber made modern dance safe for big people. The oversize gazelle, whose theater dance pieces are becoming a hot downtown dance ticket, premiered his latest dance theater opus, “Julius Caesar Superstar,” at Danspace Project, May 12 to 16.

With former New York City Ballet star Robert La Fosse in the title role, the hour-long extravaganza leaps in time from ancient Rome, where eight 300-pound senators plot to dethrone Caesar, to 1950s Washington, D.C., where the assassination occurs. The senators stab him with pocket knives and swath him in a crimson ribbon of blood. Live video of the action by Janet Wong, projected on a scrim behind them, amplifies the action.

Music by Handel, Vivaldi and original music by Goldhuber’s cousin, Geoff Gersh, as well as live electric cello embellishments by Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, back the dancing senators in ample, red-trimmed white togas. The rotund octet, cavorting merrily in square-dance patterns, includes dance novices like Sidney Boone and director/actor Eric Stephen Booth, seasoned performers like Thom Fogarty, who outstrips Goldhuber in heft, downtown club emcee Hapi Phace, performer Rhetta Aleong, dance educator Micki Saba and Jones/Zane alumna Rosalynde Leblanc in a fat suit.

Four studly soldiers––Arthur Aviles, Alberto Denis, Marcelo Rueda Duran, and Valentin Ortolaza, Jr.––in authentic-looking armor and helmets (all the super costumes are by Liz Prince) act as Caesar’s backup dance group, in the triumphant “Caesar Returns/War Stories” section, as well as swarming over his body, bathing him and fulfilling his every physical need––if you catch my meaning––as he basks on his throne.

In staging “The Baths,” Goldhuber shows keen theatrical sensibility, projecting clouds of steam on a scrim, behind which we glimpse the hefty senators parading to and fro, plotting against that skinny little Caesar. In “The Hearing,” senators, now wearing dress shirts and ties and trousers with suspenders, try Caesar, who’s still in his loin cloth and laurel anadem, before the judge, beloved downtown dance patroness Micki Wesson.

Caesar’s “Dance of Death” leans a bit too heavily on old ballet steps that look as though La Fosse hasn’t been doing for a while. In a loin cloth, his physique still boasts its fine proportions, although Kathy Kaufmann’s imaginative lighting can’t disguise the inevitable softening of muscle tone that maturity brings along with the benefits of greater stage presence and dramatic authority. Another costume choice would have been kinder.

“Crossing Over” introduces Lady Macbeth in the potent persona of Goldhuber’s frequent collaborator Keely Garfield, looking spiffy in an Empire dress and crown, compulsively scrubbing her bloody hands. She dances a pas de deux with Caesar, clearly maintaining the wry upper hand.

Stripped of Brutus, Anthony and all of Shakespeare’s boring plot stuff, Goldhuber’s “Julius Caesar Superstar,” like his one man show last season, “The Life and Times of Barry Goldhubris,” is snappy and infectiously buoyant. Senators and soldiers sing and dance Luther Vandross’ “Brand New Day” for the requisite production number finale, complete with star-spangled hats and sashes and a shower of big fat confetti. With a little editing, maybe some full frontal nudity for the soldiers and lots more scenery, this production could have a nice little Off-Broadway run.

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