A Time to Dance
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 18, 2009
A Time to Dance, a one-woman show written and performed by Libby Skala, is a biography of Elizabeth "Lisl" Polk, a dancer and dance therapist from Austria who was also Skala's great aunt.
The show is performed on a stage that is bare and clean like a dance studio. During the show, Skala tells Lisl's story, beginning with her birth in 1902 and touching upon the different points in her life such as World War I, her marriage, and her eventual immigration to the United States after Hitler's invasion.
Despite the title, the show is not primarily a dance piece, but there are numerous short dances, sometimes illustrating a certain style (ballet, modern dance), and sometimes punctuating a scene, conveying an emotion, or celebrating a victory—like her father's successful business deal or her recovery from TB. Skala also uses percussion instruments—a tambourine, a handheld drum, maracas—as part of her dances. The music of the show is a collection of music that Elizabeth Polk used in her dance therapy practice.
The show spans most of the 20th century, and Skala focuses on major events in Polk's life and times when her survival was in doubt. Skala portrays other characters, as is the convention of one-person biographical plays. Because of the length of time covered by the work, the play provides a personal viewpoint of larger, historical events—bringing history to life.
In a sense, the play probably should not work as well as it does because of all the talking. However, what makes it worth seeing is that Skala is very funny and she approaches even the most serious times in Polk's life—for example, her parents' expectation that she would die right after she was born—with humor. As a performer, Skala emits joy and optimism, and her smile and enthusiasm are infectious.
In her notes in the program, Skala writes, "what characterizes Lisl to me is her spontaneous joy and impish playfulness." Skala's portrayal of Polk's joy makes A Time to Dance an interesting portrait of and loving tribute to her great aunt.