Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Caught" In The Act with Parsons Dance

The athleticism on display at Thursday's performance by Parsons Dance was a sight that could only be believed after seeing it live. Parsons Dance is a contemporary dance company run by choreographer/director David Parsons. The performance featured six pieces with a range of two to eight dancers and a variety of lighting and music to enhance the movement. Regrettably, the evening was only two-thirds successful.

The performance got off to a slow start with the clunky "Round My World." Punctuated by plodding, digitized music from cellist and composer Zoe Keating, the only bright spot in "Round" was the lighting. Howell Binkley's ethereal lighting design created planes of light such that it began to appear that the dancers in the background were dancing behind a translucent screen. At the end of the piece, the dancers were lit from the front of the stage creating shadows on the backdrop and thereby increasing the dancing figures on stage from six to twelve. Alas, the lighting alone was not enough to start the evening off on an intriguing note.

The two-dancer jazz piece "Step into My Dreams" passed quickly, only to give way to "Kind of Blue," which proved to be the second piece of the evening that seemed to be never-ending. 

The pieces following intermission were the evening's highlights. The second act kicked off with Parsons' 1984 piece "Envelope." The lighthearted portrayal of losing identity within an organizational structure with the passing amongst the dancers of an almighty envelope was welcomed by the audience, at times with uproarious laughter. Commenting on the loss of identity with an exercise that requires conformity is Parsons at his best.
"Caught" is arguably Parsons' most well known piece and rightfully so. The performance features a single male dancer performing more than 100 leaps timed precisely with strobe lighting to create the illusion of flight. And if there was any doubt that dancing is an extremely difficult art, watching the dancer's stomach and chest heave in and out during the pauses between the leaps will prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

If only "Caught" had finished the evening. Another never-ending piece, "Nascimento," wrapped up the evening and was the fourth piece that failed to engage. "Nascimento" was long, featured bizarre musical passages, and needed to be edited for length even more than some of its' predecessors. 

Nothing can diminish the talent of the dancers. All were fluid and rarely was there any noticeable lapse in synchronization. Unfortunately, the talent got lost in the midst of long and underwhelming selections. The dancers held the evening together and their skill will continue to draw crowds that will overlook the disappointment of some of the pieces to focus on the display of raw talent.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Most Amazing Gift

Talk about anticipation. The Civic Center of Greater Des Moines announced the 2012-2013 season a couple weeks ago and it will put a major dent in my pocketbook. Not only are we getting the current Tony winner for Best Musical, The Book of Mormon, but we are also getting the current Tony winner for Best Play, War Horse.

I have been listening to Mormon since the show exploded last year and it is back in my rotation, and better than ever, knowing that I will get to see the show live. War Horse, known for the magical life size puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company, will no doubt be better than the movie which came out late last year.

One of the returning shows is Les Miserables, which somehow I have not seen. The last time it was in town I was fourteen and it really was not on my radar. Since then I have become attached to it because I watched the 25th anniversary concert and a friend of mine gave me the music. I'll admit that I don't understand all of the  pieces of the plot and am hopeful that seeing the full show will fill in the gaps.

Million Dollar Quartet will also make a stop. And while I am not anticipating it quite as much as the others, the music of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis will no doubt be a draw. The Civic Center's announcement event included a performance from the Chicago company and they brought the house down with familiar numbers such as "Hound Dog" and "Great Balls of Fire."

The other returning show in the Broadway Series is also the one that I will skip. That show is Jekyll & Hyde. Constantine Maroulis was a hit when he stopped here last year with Rock of Ages and that may help the show's chances. For me, Maroulis is not a draw, the story is not a draw, and I do not think I will regret my decision to put the funds towards one of the add-on options.

The add-on shows include Beauty and the Beast, Rock of Ages, and Jersey Boys. All wonderful options, but I am most excited to see Jersey Boys again. So much so that when they announced it my heart fluttered with delight. Jersey Boys has a solid story and music that gets toes tapping; if you have not seen it, you will not be disappointed.

All in all, no complaints. Next season will be amazing and will only further the case that Des Moines is a major player in the theater world. Just one of the many perks to living in Des Moines; that is, if the corn fields, ceaseless wind, and bitter cold just aren't doing it for you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Get Up, Stand Up

Stand up comedy is a different animal. Comedy is not like a play or a musical where it will be essentially the same at each performance. And unlike a concert wherein you are familiar with the songs, with a comedian you never know what you will get at any given performance. Of course, you can know the types of routines they typically perform - they don't call it a routine for nothing - but because the audience is different every night, even a rehearsed comedian changes each night.

When Paula Poundstone performed at Hoyt Sherman Place on Friday night, she displayed how an adept comedian reacts to the audience and tailors the act to the type of humor the audience reacts to the most.

Poundstone incorporated stories about her children, pets, and habits with the dry wit that has characterized her comedy. Poundstone may not be an edgy comedian, she does not tell politically incorrect anecdotes, rather she is hilarious when expounding on regular activities. This quality makes it easier for the audience to relate to her.

The part of the act that was the most fun was when she latched onto several audience members and poked fun at their careers. In most cases, the people were game, and even when they seemed a little timid Poundstone was able to pull it out of them to the enjoyment of the rest of the audience. Then towards the end of the show, when she herself admitted she was in a strange mood, she laid down on the stage, propped her feet up on the stool and used her feet to act out the situations she had pulled out of those audience members. I am sure that sounds bizarre, but you had to be there.

Some of her prepared bits went on a couple minutes too long; the CNN and the cat stories could have been cut down, but that was a minor detail in an otherwise hilarious evening.

Poundstone was very gracious with her fans as well, staying after to sign merchandise, take pictures and listen to stories. She should consider herself welcome in Des Moines anytime.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

As if the Presidential Campaign season wasn't bad enough...Enter Sarah Palin

Around these parts we have to wait for the free HBO weekend to catch Game Change, so my apologies for the fact that this is not exactly timely. Game Change, though it gathered mostly positive reviews, is not without flaws.

First the positives. Most notably, Julianne Moore is fantastic as Vice Presidential hopeful/media whore Sarah Palin. Much has been publicized about how Moore learned Palin's speech patterns and Alaskan drawl, but it is what Moore does when she is not speaking that is more profound. She manages to make Palin more than just the SNL caricature that we all know and love.

Woody Harrelson is a joy to watch as campaign adviser Steve Schmidt. It is Schmidt who suggests Palin as the game changing running mate to counter the immense popularity of Barack Obama. Harrelson masterfully displays Schmidt's realization of the error in his suggestion and his stubborn determination to make her work.

And yet Game Change lacks a clear vision of how to portray Palin. Throughout the course of the film, Palin transitions from a sympathetic character who is a small fish in a big pond to a woman under such pressure that she is on the verge of a breakdown to a ruthless individual out for her own celebrity. The one consistent message about Palin that runs through the film is that she lacks very basic knowledge of the world around her. The difficulty that the filmmakers faced was, of course, that we will never know the real Sarah Palin and crafting a consistent portrayal of her was a clearly a challenge.

Game Change is worth a watch on a free HBO weekend, and even if you pay for HBO, I would still recommend it. On a side note, the free HBO weekend has also allowed me to confirm that Sex and the City 2 is actually worse than the critics had let on.