nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 8, 2005
I had a good time at Balletto Stiletto, the charmingly offbeat hybrid dance/theatre piece created by Mary Fulham, with choreography by Heidi Latsky and music by Benjamin Marcantoni. Inspired by the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" by the Brothers Grimm, it tells the story of the Appliance King of New Jersey and his bafflement at how his nine daughters (Fulham has reduced the number of "princesses" for some reason) manage to escape their locked bedroom every night and, apparently, go out dancing.
Vexed, the Appliance King makes a spectacular holiday offer on TV (in ads, projected on a big white curtain that fills the rear wall of the playing area): whoever can solve the mystery of his daughters' nightly sojourns will win the daughter of his choice in marriage, plus the appliance dealership of his choice as bonus/dowry. The competition spurs lots of local Jersey "princes" to action—even though the cost of losing the contest is the young man's own head.
For a while, it looks as if the daughters are going to keep their secret (and their single status). But eventually, a Soldier decides to give it a whirl and, with the help of an enigmatic Peddler Woman, he's able to resist the wine and sleeping powder with which the girls habitually trap their would-be suitors and instead follow them to their dancing haven, which turns out to be an underground club in Manhattan (they swim across the Hudson, you see). The Soldier wins the contest, selects a daughter (and dealership) for his very own, and is ready to live happily ever after. As for the dancing daughters—well, Fulham provides an ambiguous ending that suggests that their loss of freedom (which the Grimm brothers might have associated with adulthood) is more tragic than we might have suspected.
Nevertheless, the tone of Balletto Stiletto is delightfully light-hearted throughout. Most of it is danced, in evocative solos and duets by Latsky herself as the Peddler Woman, Brian Glover as the Soldier, and Eugene the Poogene as the King, and in enthusiastic but occasionally chaotic ensembles featuring the daughters and the four young "princes" who woo them. Latsky's choreography seems designed to showcase her own ample talents and to demonstrate that whatever the dancers' size, shape, or body type, graceful movement is not only possible but inevitable. There's a real joy and energy in the dance sequences—especially the piece set in the Manhattan disco, where contemporary dance moves are interwoven with Latsky's more eclectic vocabulary. Latsky stages several of her dances, strikingly, in silhouette, backlit behind the rear curtain.
Marcantoni's music includes electro-pop to rock and is occasionally set to lyrics by Paul Foglino. The story is mostly told in music and dance, with lyrics and a small amount of spoken dialog played on speakers (it's been pre-recorded by the actors) and accompanied by appropriate movement on stage. There's also a good deal of video, by Eva Mantell, some of it abstract, and some of it quite funny, like the ads I mentioned earlier. (A big map of New Jersey depicting all of the Appliance King's locations, projected for the Soldier's edification, struck me as particularly witty.)
Gregory John Mercurio's set, which consists of a "proscenium" and some stepped playing areas composed of gaudy, be-ribboned appliance cartons, is clever and appropriate. Ramona Ponce's costumes—variations on themes for the "princesses" and princes"; a Yul Brynner-as-King-of-Siam feel for the Appliance King; vividly contrasting reds and blacks for the Peddler Woman; and naturalistic camouflage for the Soldier—are all quite effective.
It all makes for a fizzy and unusual evening of entertainment; not as overtly holiday-themed as a lot of other shows out there at the moment, but certainly offering an offbeat perspective and even a little food for thought as we navigate through all the Christmas sale ads that inundate us this at time of year.