nytheatre.com review by Hope Cartelli
August 15, 2004
Towards the end of Dinner Party, a production of REALMdanceproject from Austin, Texas, the hostess whines that she has no idea how it all went so wrong: “I had the best … everything!” She’s lamenting her dashed hopes for romance despite her well-placed dashes of paprika and cocoa among other ingredients in the numerous dishes she has offered her guests over the course of the evening. Meanwhile, I began to lament having to articulate my disappointment over what originally seemed to be a promising idea for a dance-theatre piece.
The feast of dance pieces (choreographed by various members of the ensemble) each correspond to a course in the evening’s meal and address the subconscious wants and fears of the party’s guests. Jessica (Rachael Lieck) is hosting a dinner party with the express goal of finding a man, a rich man to call her own. To better illustrate her desire, she performs a detached, almost instructional chair dance to the song “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. Lieck’s minimal choreography tries to put a sarcastic cherry on top of the already biting sentiments of the famous tune and, as a result, the piece is stunted with no real dynamic arc to it.
The guests begin to arrive, including Terry, a nerd (Michelle Nance), She, a wallflower (Kristi Melton), and Krystal, a drunk (Molly Roy), among others. The men who attend the party remain nameless (except for Terry) and are portrayed by females. As Jessica makes her rounds and moves the party along, the guests break out intermittently to perform solos or group pieces, always on the theme of how tough love can be on the heart and the stomach. The relatively elementary emotions and humor the dance numbers explore don’t come close to the interesting depths I expected the group to go to. Instead of a fun, insightful look at how the mating game changes when people are asked to attend a formal affair, the pieces remain all surface and prettiness, as in the undercooked solo “She Comes in Colors,” in which the ultra-shy She attempts to come out of her shell. The dancers are technically adept but are unable to register a sincere level of emotional involvement in their moves. They are not helped by the uninspired original musical compositions of Jeff Rosenberg, who waters down techno with Enya-styled strains one minute and rips off the theme from Seinfeld (to not great effect) the next.
Including a piece entitled “Not Just Another Chair Dance,” which somehow manages to leave the world of the dinner party entirely to become a short lecture with movement on the importance of chairs (I’m still confused as to why it was even in this show), the remainder of Dinner Party never manages to pick up steam, and all that we are left with is a bunch of unintriguing loose ends. There is a great beginning to a show here and I recommend that REALMdanceproject head back to the cutting board to find it.