According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Balletto Stiletto" by Georgia Kirtland

An unusual and stylish dance adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, Balletto Stiletto at LaMaMa ETC ultimately falls victim to the alluring temptations of modern “experimental” theater, and too many unnecessary media elements spoil the soup.

What has emerged across the artistic board in recent history, as a genre in its own right, is “the update”: the cultural powers-that-be have come to acknowledge that it takes as much technique and imagination to successfully re-create a classic in a new and relevant context as it does to stage an original work. Theatrically, one need only reference the success of Rent (an adaptation of Puccini’s opera, La Boheme) or the irreverent, text chopping techniques of the Wooster Group to know that one can really have some fun with the pre-existing.

Which Balletto Stiletto, at the Annex Theater at La MaMa ETC, sets out just to do; this piece gives an avant-garde facelift to the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” – you know, the one where a king petitions would-be suitors to uncover how his daughters manage to sneak out every night and dance their shoes right through…winner takes a wife, loser takes a beheading. In this version, the king’s dominion is now the discount appliance industry of New Jersey; his nine daughters are tutu-ed, doe eyed darlings by day and dance crazed, Dionysian club hoppers by night. The story is relayed mainly (and appropriately) through dance, with some original narrative songs, video projections and a smattering of pre-recorded dialogue as supplement.

Aesthetically, all the different elements stand strongly on their own: Eva Mantell’s projections are playful and delightfully peculiar, Benjamin Marcantoni’s original, synth laden score is delicate and dreamy, and Heidi Latsky (who also appears as a peddling gypsy / narrator of sorts) choreographs, at its strong points, a vibrant and dare-I-even-say cheeky piece – from samurai sword fights to refined solos to full company bump and grind club scenes in eye-blink transitions.

But in combination? Such a simple story doesn’t need so much going on to be good and effective, and Balletto Stiletto ultimately falls victim to the alluring temptations of modern “experimental” theater: too much different and unnecessary media spoils the soup. Some methods, like the use of silhouetted action against a psyche, live interaction with video, and so forth are tastefully executed; had you come to the theatre to admire some clever ideas for staging, your money is well spent. However, as these techniques work together, or as part of a whole: nothing is really the better or more illuminated for its presence, and what comes off is a show that congratulates itself for having the foresight to use such ultramodern means without really understanding how it could be utilized best.

…Not to mention a show that uses such ultramodern themes; the strong feminist overtones that came with the adaptation certainly add an intriguing and culturally pertinent angle - now when the daughters sneak out to bop, there’s a lot more at stake than just blowing off dad. I’m just unsure that the show’s methods of illustrating this point – i.e. recurring “birds flying free” motif - can rise above the level of cliché to be penetrating or heavy hitting. The show would have benefited if less attention had been paid to overly fulfilling this theme, but more paid to some loose ends and unresolved narrative flaws (Why is there a gypsy woman pushing a shopping cart in every scene? Why is the appliance king also a samurai sword wielder? And why does he look younger than all of his nine daughters? ).

In short, Balletto Stiletto, as the name suggests, is high style theatre, and a very eyebrow raising take on the Brothers Grimm, but unfortunately falls a little short of being satisfyingly substantial.

Balletto Stiletto
The Annex Theatre at La MaMa ETC

66 East 4th Street
December 3 – 18
Thursday – Saturday @ 7:30
Sunday @ 2:30 and 7:30

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