Arianne MacBean Charms Audience with The Big Show Co.

REDCAT is an outstanding performance space, but groups like Arianne MacBean’s dance theater company, The Big Show Co., shine in such an intimate and magical space. MacBean’s choreography is diverse and engaging. The company features four performers who not only move but also speak (a lot!) and even sing (not quite as much). This performance served as a thank you to the Los Angeles friends and fans who helped support the company to take the show on the road up to San Francisco where they will perform the same two dance works at ODC this weekend.

The show opened with MacBean’s absurdly funny piece entitled The People Go Where The Chairs Are. Breaking with the conventions of much concert dance, this performance exposes the inner workings of the artistic process and the meaning making that is happening on stage – as it is actually happening. The dancers play themselves (self-costumed) in a situational dance comedy which comments directly on the piece as it is unfolding.  This performed self study conveys MacBean’s keen understanding of the artistic process and its many ridiculous attributes.  While there were few conventionally choreographed dance phrases, this piece modeled the physicality that can exist within a dance theater paradigm without being weighed down by formal dance technique.  The performers were clearly comfortable working with their wireless microphones and allowing their voices to drive the narrative of the performance. The performers each brought a unique skill set to the stage that fit seamlessly with the others, creating movement situations that made absolute sense with each dancer’s performance strengths. Brad Culver had a particularly understated and dry sense of humor that was belly-laugh funny. Max Eugene with his powerful physical presence played simple, provocative and hysterical. Angelina Attwell mixed her humor thus: two parts sass and one part clown. And, technically outstanding Genevieve Carson played young, honest and endearing.  For those outside the dance world The People Go Where the Chairs Are is a playful peek into the world of dance making; and for those in the dance world, it is like a Seinfield version of the quintessential rehearsal experience as the cast grasps after the elusive, authentic moment.

The short intermission and change over time between pieces was put to use with an interview of MacBean by Dance Resource Center of Greater LA, Executive Director Shayna Keller.  The interview offered the audience a new lens with which to enjoy the dance work and get to know the mind behind this language rich dance work.

The second half of the show had a distinctly different tone. However, it was still centered around storytelling through movement and voice.  present tense offered the audience time to soak in the physicality of MacBean’s creativity. Original music by Ivan Johnson, lighting design by Pablo Santiago, and creative cartoon-like costume design by Lynda Taylor worked together to create an alternate universe that was spacious, evocative, revealing and subtle. A diverse palette of movements plus a scattering of verbal phrases created a pensive and somber tone that was a bit unexpected after the playfulness of the previous piece. present tense opened with a dark stage. The audience waited. We heard a dancer slide along the floor then exit. We waited and waited. We continued to wait, gaining a sense of anticipation and uncertainty for what was to come next. These precious moments challenged the audience to be both fully present (and tense) as a result.  As lights came up, Max Eugene performed in time-melting slow motion that was so subtle one could barely tell he was moving at all. In the meantime, Genevieve Carson jerked her way through doll-like poses while Angelina Attwell and Brad Culver slid slowly and patiently across the stage on their backs. The diversity of this opening image, created a strong sense of disconnect that put the audience in a place of curiosity and suspicion. Once the dancers started working together as a whole again, the audience discomfort eased. But at this time, when the dancers joined as a quartet, the interpersonal tension between the dancers heightened. Imagine four dancers running fiercely through the space calling out to each other as they ran take my hand, reach! But, no success. The amorphous structure of this second piece felt long, but perhaps it required this time to become itself, for the puzzle pieces to find each other and offer a profound resolution in the final moments. The audience was left with sense of grasping for existence.

The show order might have played better in reverse, due to the more subdued tones in the second piece that left the audience pensive rather than exuberant (as they had felt going into intermission). But the logistics of the set and costumes likely made it unfeasible.  Nevertheless, the show concluded with heartfelt applause from the audience who seemed to appreciate the relatability of the work. This idea of relatability came up in the earlier interview with MacBean.  MacBean in describing her work expressed how she is grappling with the disconnect of of a dances likability (entertainment) and its perceived value in terms of art.  She suggested to replace the identification of successful dance being “likable” with successful dance being “relatable.” This would remove the idea that a dance work must be pleasant to be successful. Upon reflection, this evening of dance carries the hallmark of being relatable. MacBean is a powerful storyteller with a special skill for shining a spotlight onto the reality of the dance world as well as human nature.  Her wit and wisdom is evident both in her joyful and existential works.  For those audience members who love to witness the process of meaning making through movement and words, MacBean is sure to deliver.

For more information on seeing The Big Show Co. in San Francisco check out the ODC website.

Did you see the show? Respond with your comment below.  

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