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Lucky Plush Productions
June 29, 2008
Reviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro
Lucky Plush Productions takes a daring leap into the realm of socio-political theory in The Sky Hangs Down Too Close. This dance-theater piece pushes raw nerves to the edge and manages to combine humor, lyricism, and innovative choreography with spoken text. Conceived and directed by Peter Carpenter and choreographed by the seven-member ensemble, the production’s challenging blend of forms also reflects the skillful contribution of artistic director Julia Rhoads.
To begin, the audience vacated the large gallery and migrated to smaller studios for two pre-performance installations—one movement-driven, the other dialogue-based—each revolving around “money.” In one studio, thousands of cascading pennies proved startling as prop, literal theme, and sound effect. They echoed down the hall as metaphoric accompaniment to the other studio’s dramatic construct. Such integration of artistic elements is a hallmark of Lucky Plush’s innovative work.
Sky, the evening-length piece, made creative use of modern dance idioms in a technically based lyrical style. Ensemble movement relied on unusual couplings and lifts, contrasting energies, and abstraction of everyday gesture. Lush movement amplified spoken text with impulses of embracing, fighting, acquiescing, and resisting. The dancers’ spoken question, “Can there be unmotivated struggle?” begged audience familiarity with political activism and critical theory, while the choreography clearly addressed individual struggle between internal and external forces.
Amid episodic solos, duets, and group phrases, dance and theater converged at riveting junctures. In a marvelous duet between Meghann Wilkinson and Lia Bonfilio, Wilkinson pinned Bonfilio in a wrestling hold while recalling a TV show about boxing, echoed by Bonfilio. Lying on his belly in a three-piece suit, Ben Law blew a dollar bill across the floor. Wilkinson juxtaposed stylized gesture and dance movement with a spoken monologue on how to fold a dollar bill into a paper airplane and launch it, repeated later to stunning effect by the whole company. In another segment, Jennifer Meeks’ airborne swim across a singing ensemble launched her into brief love/hate partnering with each dancer. Tim Heck, in a solo tour de force, contrasted tormented movement—assaulted by unseen forces of punching, pulling, twisting, and crushing—with a calm, rationally spoken reflection on internal fear and resistance, taken from Bertolt Brecht’s play In the Jungle of Cities. Kevin Rechner’s lighting and sound design and Jeff Hancock’s subtle patchwork costuming were equal partners in transforming the bare warehouse into a rich dramatic landscape.
Some discrepancies between acting and dancing, where complex ideas weren’t yet fully integrated, warranted attention. But the work was so fresh and engaging, there is little doubt Lucky Plush will continue to evolve in its exciting efforts to integrate artistic forms.
Photo by William Frederking. Meghann Wilkinson in "The Sky Hangs Down Too Close."