Southern Send-Up

Aaron Draper and Daniel Clifton exploring coming together and coming apart

Imagine “Hee-Haw” as an urban rock opera. “This is a True Story” is the witty, artful, and entertaining conception of Brooklyn-based dancer-choreographers Aaron Draper (originally from the Bay Area) and Daniel Clifton (originally from Niceville, Florida). Along with their collaborators Ephrat Asherie, Darrin P. Bennet, Naima Bigby, Prosenjit Kundu, and Amy Larimer, they have devised a Southern-fried evening of sultry modern dance, hip hop, breaking, and live rock n’ roll.

This decidedly American dance theater piece tells the tale of a band (The Break Ups) struggling to find its identity, while the individual band members search for love and freedom of expression with the help of turkeys, VCRs, car-trucks, Dollywood, dead rabbits, bird dogs, and the Alabama Po-lice. Frighteningly and funnily enough, in a way only the South can be, the material is derived from real events.

The script follows the characters Gray (Clifton), Violet (Larimer), Birddog (Draper), and the band as their break ups begin. The classic dramatic tension between wandering eyes and the need to be free, and just plain stubborn and stupid nonsense you would expect from a couple of good old boys and the women who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em drive the storyline. The movement, which is fairly constant, includes a lot of costume changes that literally transform the characters into each other’s roles, if only for a moment, gender notwithstanding.

One scene in particular has a fumbling arrest between Clifton and Bennet that morphs into a scene from 1984––“The smell of her hair, the taste of her mouth, the feel of her skin seem to have got inside him or in the air all around him.” In the end, the band is divided, not united, into two––one Christian rock band, and the other destined for “Hee Haw.” It’s hard not to see the influence of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the minds behind South Park, in this show, especially at this moment.

In addition to the stylish unison dancing that starts off the show, each performer gets their own solo, which showcases their different strengths and styles, and every one of them is a virtuoso in their own right. The group’s collective palette makes use of ballet, hip hop, break dance, mime, Nikolais, Graham and contemporary modern dance styles. Many of these solos fuse text and movement in an evocative manner, drawing on the movement to express the emotional qualities of the words. Beat box meets Mummenschanz, modern dance gets sexy, hip hop and break dancing meld with lyrical phrases in formal structures. It’s a treat for the senses, a mishmash of the high and the low, sure to offend anyone who ever lived in a trailer.

The score for the hour-long work features original music by Clifton and Duel (Damien Foxton and Tom Laurie), who will perform live, as well as a mix of jazz, opera, house, hip hop, and country, not to mention the live singing of Dolly Parton’s hit “9 to 5.” Lighting design for the performances is by Erik C. Bruce, whose background in rock ‘n roll brings freshness to stage dance in inspiring ways.

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