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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
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
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