Posts Tagged ‘Duwane Taylor’

Review – The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – Zoonation at Royal Opera House

December 16, 2014

Magic at Christmas, to me, is having a company I follow worshipfully present an adaptation of a literary work I adore. No, Matthew Bourne is doing the same old same old at Sadler’s Wells (although the Royal Ballet is freshening things up by not doing the Nutcracker this year). No, ZooNation, who had me out of my seat and cheering to Some Like it Hip Hop and laughing and smiling with their Wizard of Oz have decided to tackle Alice in Wonderland. Getting two tickets together was nearly impossible, but the Royal Opera House‘s generous returns policy (and my persistent use of F5) finally paid off and a few days after opening night I was there (for a bizarrely timed 5PM Saturday start – never seen a show at that time before!).

Before I get into the dance, let me talk a little about the overall setting, which starts in the lobby of the Linbury. It’s set up like a tea party is going on, with tea pots on the tables, and there is a Mad Hatter’s picture booth where you can try on different headwear and take a photo. There are also a series of riddles written around the walls (tied into a prize giveaway). It’s all really fun and involving, although I really doubt the piece is entertaining enough for the 6 year olds I saw in the audience – 10 and over would be better. You’ve been warned.

The story, such as it is, is that strange Dr Ernest (Tommy Franzen) has been hired at a rather bizarre madhouse to lead group therapy sessions for an extremely deranged set of people. They aren’t deranged because collectively they represent the characters of Alice in Wonderland; no, they seem each to have their own quirk which needs to be dealt with. These quirk are expressed in a series of solo dances that take their greatest flight with the extremes of the Cheshire Cat (Duwane Taylor), a man who arrives in a straightjacket and, bursting it, is able to turn the external world into a flickering, blue lit chamber of extreme dub. But the highlight of these is the one duet, between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Rowen Hawkins and Ross Sands), whose high energy, Sumo-esque, belly slamming dance duel just rocked the house. I couldn’t have cared less that these two are so peripheral to the main story; watching them helicopter spin and bounce off of each other, I was leaping out of my chair with excitement – only no I wasn’t, because I was in the Linbury and most of the audience was only able to clap politely, not roar and cheer like I thought we should have been. Still: awesome.

And then it was act two, in which the mentally broken Ernest is taken to a tea party in Wonderland to see if the various people can put him back together again. This involves dancing across the table, getting a few lucky audience members in hats and jackets and right next to the action, flips and spins and overall wildness building to a conclusion that had us all clapping – Ernest rejects the clinicians (who had been hiding between the start and finish as our very talented musicians) and becomes one with Alice’s crew. Only … whoa, there were the rest of the audience, still sitting down politely, completely visible in transverse staging in all of their glued-to-their-seatsness. PEOPLE THIS WAS AWESOME HOW COULD YOU NOT RESPOND BETTER? All I can say is, me, I was thrilled to bits to get to see this great show in such an intimate environment, and I can’t wait for a chance to see it again, preferably at the Peacock and with a crowd of unrestrained people who will give it the roars of enthusiasm it deserves. I loved my trip down the rabbit hole! My only regret is a few of the Royal Ballet dancers didn’t get stuck in while ZooNation is in residence – I think the cross-pollination would have done both side marvels – and taken this show utterly over the top.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 13, 2014. It continues through January 3rd. A few tickets keep becoming available so try looking now, you might get lucky!)

Review – Some Like It Hip Hop – Zoonation at the Peacock Theater

October 25, 2011

Into the Hoods was the first full-length street dance evening I attended, and while I found it rough around the edges, it got me excited about the style … and the company. This meant that the company’s new show, Some Like it Hip Hop, had made it to the place of honor in my mental space as I put their flier on my cubicle’s tiny display space. Mental note: AWESOME SHOW COMING.

So … here’s what I expected going in. Despite the fact that the title is from the movie Some Like it Hot, I was thinking not at all about a plot involving gangsters, all-girl Jazz bands, and cross-dressing musicians; instead, I’d got my mind fixated on Shakespearean influences for this show, with As You Like It and Measure for Measure being zipped up and rejigged with the ever popular mistaken identities, twins, and a whole new element of kick-ass dance to tie it all together (per Time Out‘s interview Twelfth Night was an influence). And, well, the production shot made me think it was all taking place in a high school.

But what I didn’t expect was a story about dystopian police state in which all books are banned and women are completely cut out of civil society – not even allowed to speak in the menial jobs they are given! The framing is a blend of science fiction and fairy tale, as a mad governor (Duwane Taylor, rather like Leontes from A Winter’s Tale) has taken the sun from they sky, forcing his subjects to live in darkness. While I was imagining the frozen future of Charles Stross’ “Palimpsest,” the death of all plant life wasn’t as important as the fact that this world was now split into those on the inside of the city (who support the king and follow his rules) and those on the outside (who have their own society but live in poverty and desperation, not to mention cold). Life is so regimented that it seems no fun for the men or the women – the men are reduced to bullies who pick on the women but live in the knowledge that one screw up on the job and they’ll be on the outside with just the coats on their backs.

This regimented life is expressed well in movement: the men shuffle into an office with their personality stripped away, but suddenly break into dance (with shouts and hollering from the audience), showing us their interior life, as they clock in for the day; and, though they move in unison as they type up their reports (and the women feed their typewriters paper), they throw in little flourishes that express the fact that they are still individuals despite the Governor trying to strip away their ability to think for themselves.

But then we get to the situation of the women. Somehow, watching them stripped of dignity, existing only to “assist” the men, reduced and humliated by the simple chance of the gender they were born being defined as “inferior” (though even at the beginning we can see that one of the guys – “Sudsy Partridge” – isn’t as good as Miss Jo-Jo Jameson) – I couldn’t help but think of all of the uprisings going on in the Middle East this year. All of these people with so much potential being held back by folks only concerned with keeping themself in power – a revolution was going to have to happen. And when Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough) and Kerri Kimbalayo (Teneisha Bonner) decided to bust back into the city (after being thrown out for getting uppity) and take the men on at their own game, you can’t help but cheer, especially when to “win the right” they have to show they can perform as well as the men. And they do, in a sizzling dance-off that saw other guys (including Sudsy) fail as the chicks showed they could totally hold their own for speed and moves – as long as they had on a suit (and hysterical fake mustaches). Now admittedly we had some plot happening here, but MAN was the dancing snazzy and fast, and how could you not see the point made that women can hold their own not just on a frozen planet but in the real world and in the arena of street dancing!

Then another plot point was spun in … The Governor has a daughter, Oprah Okeke (Natasha Gooden) who wants to reunite with her dad! First she’s on the outside of the city, then, somehow, she sneaks in an open door and gets a job at the factory, but she is not doing a good job at conforming – especially knowing that the misery her father has put on everyone else is something that’s wrong, but that fixing him is what has to be done to change it. So we have revolution bursting out at many levels, from the women, from the family, and finally from the men of the city, who are not as happy living in their same sex dorms and playing poker as The Governer might wish they were! Finally the whole thing breaks out in all out war as the various forces come together and have to fight it out in a big dance scene. You think this is going to be cheesy and over-stylized, but it actually had me on the edge of my seat – it was like watching X Wing fighters diving into the Death Star! The audience was going wild and I was cheering along with them – to see a corrupt system overthrown, to see the women get the respect they deserved, to see the various lovers finally allowed to reunite – there was a lot riding on this battle and we wanted a happy resolution. Unsurprisingly, we got it, and at the end we even got the sun hung back in the sky.

Overall Some Like It Hip Hop was a big level up for Zoonation, with not just a compelling story and characters, but great design work and … it has to be said … the fantastic addition of a bunch of original music sung by real belters. No more projected sets and sampled music, this was the full meal deal, a night of story told through acting, singing, and dance. I was astounded at what a change had happened. Congratulations to Kate Prince and crew, you’ve made a show to be remembered – and one I think I need to go back and see again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, October 24th, 2011. It continues at the Peacock Theater through November 19th. Awesome dance moment: during the final fight, a guy dances like he’s going to tear the house down all by himself, and in response, the woman he’s showing off to takes her right leg and, while standing on the left, tucks her foot behind her ear. Dodge THAT.)