Monica Bill Barnes’ dance company plumbs the depths of reality surreal
Feminism, conformity, phoniness, performance both versus and as reality.
Big ideas come packed in Monica Bill Barnes’ latest effort, “The Happy Dance (or what started out ok),” a dance collage in the Twilight Zone, performed at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church October 21 through 24.
Essentially a duet, the dance is infringed upon by a competing trio, reflected in mocking miniature, and interrupted every so often by a faded circus parade that doesn’t seem sure of its purpose and by applause from the balcony. A trio of rosy-cheeked, gape-mouthed, garish, flashy sideshow girls—Beth Bradford, Deborah Lohse, Anna Smith—are all flash, marching and twisting and pounding their fists for emphasis.
Our heroines, Barnes and Tami Stronach, hop and lean and bounce like fighters, breathing, stomping, rolling, stopping in the spotlight, searching. Unlike all the others, their cheeks have no rouge. They often look out as if they are lost, waking from a dream, or simply done, but not sure what to do or what happens next. They are strangers in a strange land compelled to repeat their actions, pretenders discovering that they are pretending.
A puppet stage in the alcove draws back its curtain to reveal two singing teenage girls on swings, Stella Dennig and Lydia Martin.
The action repeats its cycle several times, includes a fake intermission and ends with a fanfare of song (“If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot”), chorus girl kick line, and flashing lights that scream crazily.
Is there a way out? The struggle continues.
Karinne Keithley designed the evocative score of jazzy big band music, chimes, distant parades, laugh track and other found materials. The multigenerational, familial cast included Eden Deering, Jack Frankel, Ursula Caspary Frankel, Han Nah Kim, Jason Dietz Merchant and Lindsey Dietz Merchant. Kelly Hanson designed the playful costumes and set, and the fine, at times dramatic lighting design was by Jane Cox.