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Flash Review 1, 1-24: "Juggling Styles"
DeAngelo's Variety Show

By Anne-Marie Mulgrew
Copyright 2001 Anne-Marie Mulgrew

PHILADELPHIA -- Director/creator Ann Marie DeAngelo assembled an A-team of star performers for the Variety Show that premiered last weekend at the Annenberg Center's Dance Celebration/NextMove Series, presented by the Annenberg and Dance Affiliates.

I wondered if the stage would be big enough for the high-powered cast consisting of master juggler Michael Moschen; hip-hop pioneer Steve "Wiggles" Clemente; U.S. National team gymnast Charlene Edwards; outrageous performance artist Ann Carlson; distinguished choreographers Joanna Haigood, Jennifer Muller and Sarah East Johnson; percussionist extraordinaire Marty Beller; and knockout performers Jodie Gates (Pennsylvania Ballet and Frankfurt Ballet), Anne Kochanski (The Works), and Johnson's daredevil circus performers: Adrienne Truscot, Natalie Agee and Diana Y. Grenier. The ambitious 75-minute, no intermission, fascinating, fun evening featured ten sections of wide-ranging works that at times variously merged, clashed and collided.

If you can imagine Moschen in a scene with Wiggles, Edwards and Gates, then a circus duet with Sarah East Johnson, followed by Carlson's hilarious "Sold" or Haigood's lovely trapeze dance, you'll get a picture of the evening. According to DeAngelo, former principal dancer and associate director of the Joffrey Ballet, it's all about the amalgamation of styles and her desire to bring what she considers a 21st century trend to audiences who might be jaded (or perhaps addicted to MTV, channel surfing and instant technology) by single-disciplined work. DeAngelo claims "she wanted to create something on stage that I as an audience would want to see."

I questioned what artistic compromises were made for the betterment of the whole vision -- "Juggling Styles." However, the fast pace, uniqueness of each act, unquestionable artistry of the cast, connecting devices (hoops, balls, Wiggles) and overwhelming diversity kept the audience of all ages on-the-edge-of-their-seats, culminating in a whelping standing ovation.

"Juggling Styles" opens with the incredible Wiggles. He's a hip-hop star, stage-hand, and collaborator who connects us to this magical performance pot-pourri. Having never seen Wiggles live, I was blown away by his commanding stage presence. He is undeniably honest, believable, and warm, yet technically mind-blowing in his inventive use of his body and the hip-hop vocabulary. He locked, popped, froze and charmed his way across the front of the curtain, eventually lifting it to reveal a vivant tableau of the cast in their respective roles. Wiggles in this introductory dance brought the cast to life, while revealing to us a glimpse of each specialty act that followed.

In writing this, I realize my strongest memories are of the individual acts.

Jennifer Muller's "aSOlo," superbly performed by Anne Kochanski and Marty Beller, is a narrative-driven spoken work about a woman who can't sleep. Kochanski got many chuckles from the audience as she tossed, turned, moaned, meditated, worried, laughed, danced, and talked to Beller's well-integrated and imaginative live music. I really enjoyed Beller banging on a pillow. It sent the message of the frustration of insomnia home.

"Adagio," a rock-solid duet for Johnson and Agee, explored a circus acrobatic vocabulary mixed with unusual contact partnering to music by Babe, the Blue Ox. These women exhibited roaring strength, sculpted beauty and undying concentration. I found myself holding my breath watching the progression of physically demanding high-risk movement, finely executed, that included the smaller Agee standing upright on Johnson's shoulders, above the head connecting arm presses, connecting horizontal arm balances to the floor and precarious contact balances and lifts.

"Three Balls" featured Moschen rolling a ball on the palm of his hand and then over the top of his hand in a continuous meditative activity. I had seen this up close on the local Saturday Morning Arts program and was mesmerized by the subtlety of Moschen's actions and divine craftsmanship. However, here, he was dwarfed by the lingering images of the two strong women and the entrance of power-house rhythmic gymnast Edwards, who performed one-handed walkovers while throwing and catching a larger ball, stunning low arm presses to the floor, drop-dead balances and high-flying leaps. Moschen was further dwarfed by the appearance of Gates on pointe and Wiggles, who interacted with Moschen as he continued to roll the ball. Although the mix of styles, use of space and incredible artistry was intriguing, I felt Moschen had been compromised. However, the rolling of three white balls was a fabulous transition into Carlson's "Sold."

Carlson made a rousing entrance in a white bride dress. She yammered like an auctioneer talking faster than a hummingbird can fly, heckling the audience into participation. It was fun, and amusing. She won and wooed many willing collaborators, morphing into a preacher bringing her new audience flock along for the ride.

The audience was still chuckling as Moschen entered with a hoop. He glided his hand around it easily like a champion race car driver. This three-section work, "Hoops," used hoops as a metaphor to bind hip-hop, ballet, rhythmic gymnastics, circus arts and juggling. There were some curious interactions between Moschen and Gates (Gates bourreed, chaineed, twirled and posed with the hoop around Moschen), Moschen and Wiggles (I loved when Moschen had Wiggles wiggling through the small hoop) and Wiggles and Gates (it was fun to see Wiggles partner Gates in a traditional pas de deux). It was great to see the forms collide as Edwards entered with a bigger hoop, thrusting into the air about twenty feet overhead. She performed sensational feats before catching it. Here, I sensed the scale being tilted and wondered, why not give Edwards the entire space for her specialty?

There was a scene change where Wiggles and Carlson brought out the apparatus for the final section of "Hoops," featuring Sarah East Johnson's all-girl quartet. Edwards, barely finished with her own hoop tour-de-force, was now the spotter for Johnson. The gals entered wearing silver-hooded costumes with red capes. They strutted, posed, and swooped off their capes. With two hoops on stage, a la Chinese circus tradition, they dived, jumped, and soared through the hoops. It was exciting to watch the wide-ranging body shapes maneuver the apparatus. The action built, as the two dove through simultaneously, one on the upper hoop, one on the lower. They piled up. They dove through, landing in four handstand balances. Elizabeth Streb watch out. These gals are not afraid to have fun while flying horizontally!

Next, we saw the stunning Gates in a red-hot dress suspended twenty feet in the air, performing Haigood's aerial work, "Dance for Yal" to "Et Pourtant," Michel Emer & Pierre Brasseur music sung by Edith Piaf. There were many beautiful moments, such as when Gates dismounted, slid into a split, remounted the trapeze, and mouthed words to the audience; and the final image of her dangling with one arm hooked on the trapeze and a foot sliding on the floor, as if she's not sure which world she inhabits.

Alone on stage, in his own elements, master illusionist Moschen closed the show with his award-winning "Triangle." Over six feet tall, the triangle looked like a house with Moschen placed in the center. He threw one ball. We heard the sound of the ball against the base of the triangle. It rebounded. It built. He threw and caught two balls, three balls. The sounds, the rhythms, the repeating actions, the devotion, the concentration, the purity of it all are so gratifying. The audience, seduced by the triangle, was overpowered by a spectacle so unique and complex yet so seemingly simple. We knew we have witnessed the rare delight and power of sheer brilliance.

DeAngelo is planning for additional performances and a possible tour. Catch it!

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