Mad Hatter- Reporting Arts Critic

A (Mock) Review of ‘MADCO’s Pulse! Saturday evening performance

by Lewis Carroll’s the Mad Hatter

(*Note- This is a MOCK REVIEW- and therefore interpretations of the pieces are reviewed as I- Jess- would imagine the fictional author seeing them and not actually what I believe each piece was necessarily trying to communicate. Dance technique is dance technique, and is always reviewed factually- even if the critic in question is not. Enjoy!)

What’s the difference between a raven and a writing desk? For all arts writers out there- not much. Both are a bad omen. One is just where a slow death takes place and the other supplies the quills/ writing instruments.

Considering that St. Louis is without a formidable dance critic, they called upon me, the culture-vulture of Wonderland to fill the role. So I donned my biggest and best ‘thinking cap’ and headed to the Touhill theatre on UMSL’s campus.

Now look, MADCO can insist that the majority of the work presented in their ‘Pulse!’ Performance was both new and choreographed by dancers and choreographers within the company, but I recognize a Wonderland touch when I see one and let’s just say that I was obviously not the only consultant brought in.

The first piece, ‘Dancer + Musician’ was listed in the program with choreography by guest artist, Alcine Wiltz. But I haven’t been asked, ‘Whooooo are youuuu’  enough times by my friend the Caterpillar without figuring out a few of his own signature traits and moves as well. First of all, this large ensemble piece featured a lot of repetitive choreographed phrases carried out in succession by the separate dancers. This is so clearly the caterpillar. He has to choreograph each pair of legs one at a time and this was obviously the case with the ‘cannon’ aspect of much of ‘Dancer + Musician’ since he can’t really manage to get each leg to work together.  Even the movement itself, with controlled contracted movements that suddenly extend to the dancers’ fullest extension is a clear indication of his longing to cocoon himself up and then fly away. Just like every pot-smoking teenager who hates their appearance and uses a cloud of drugs to ponder over their very existence and desire to be bigger, more beautiful, and to escape. Also the idea of bringing musicians onstage to play live with the dancers, especially the sax player who worked a little of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory song, “pure Imagination’ in there, is just so that hookah-smoking bug. It fits his whole hippie philosophical MO to a T. Or an R. Or a U. Who are you, Mr. larva to think you can put the wool over my eyes with some choreographic nom de plume? We all know that Alice in Wonderland also features more individual songs than any other Disney film (since many are so short) and already know what an important part music plays in fantasy. Just ask any of those stupid kids on that ‘Glee’ show who think they’ll be around for another few seasons.

Piece number 2- Junk Garden Remix– inspired by a previous piece of work from MADCo- was supposedly choreographed by the dancers together and accompanied with live percussion on found objects. Let’s not be silly.  The ‘garden’ part is a clear give away. So obviously the flowers who accuse Alice of being a weed. Well guess what plants, it’s October not June, so we CAN’T learn much from you, especially since the piece was a little scattered and confusing. This was a garden where each flower was beautiful in its own right, but a daffodil next to a shrub doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t require plucking, just better organization. I think next time they should hire Bill the Lizard– popular Wonderland gardener- as dance captain.

Next up was ‘Rebound‘ choreographed by ‘Claire Hilleren’ aka the White Rabbit.  The two harnessed dancers continuously springing and swinging for the entire duration of the piece was a dead giveaway that they were LATE FOR AN IMPORTANT DATE! The continuous movement seemed to me to be ‘Hilleren’s’ take on how we bounce back from set-backs, relationships, how we must keep falling and recovering to progress as only a rabbit could choreograph. Also the attention to detail in choreography. lighting, costume, and the amount of rehearsal that clearly went into this production (as demonstrated by the cleanliness of all six dancers) is a pretty sure sign of someone a little OCD.

Next up was ‘Groove‘ choreographed by my cohorts the March Hare and the Door Mouse. I mean…choreographed by Lindsay Hawkins. THis piece was just a fantastic dance party and complete delight, like a great un-birthday present. It was a jazz-aged swinging time that still delivered on technique and made me feel like I was the one in a Wonderland.  Each dancer represented themselves well in both execution and performance, creating a cast of ‘characters’ that I would put on my unbirthday invite list. The use of a table as a prop only further demonstrated the perpetual tea-time of which the Hare, the Mouse, and I are stuck in and when it comes to Groove, it’s a soiree that you don’t really want to leave anyways.

We all know that Alice sometimes struggles with her studies as seen by her lack of focus. I thinks he must have reserved her brain juice in creating the next piece ‘Journey‘ and not in making an alias since she also hid under the pseudonym Lindsay Hawkins. Journey was an all female ensemble cast of strong women concluding in a repeated phrase of steps carried out in a diagonal single-file line, one more dancer disappearing into the bright light of the wing ast he phrase concluded. This is clearly the fanciful Alice’s take on the rigidity of society and the rules of propriety taking away every young girl’s individuality as they are married off. Kudos feminist Alice but keep dreaming on that fake name.

The show finished with a favorite of MADCO’s- called ‘Play or be Played’. Do I even need to say who is clearly really behind this? It certainly isn’t Keith Williams, but the set of playing cards kept by the Queen of Hearts. The dancers were at separate moments, playful, cruel, and sexy, toying with each other and the audience  in this showstopping number. They might not be painting any roses red, but they were indeed painting the town red. No thanks Queen of Heart, I won’t play croquet, but I will play this game.

 An audience is always such a mysterious gathering, appearing and disappearing, clapping or texting at will, buying tickets or in other cases leaving just before the curtain call in a rude attempt to avoid the Caucus Race known as circling and escaping from the parking lot. Over all I must that the show twas brillig. The dancers and the slithy troves did gymble nimbly and with strength, grace, precision, and fluidity. Each choreographer employed a sure grasp of pattern, staging, and mimsy. The audience, Dads and momes, siblings, and friends  rath outgrabe to their feet as the curtain fell. We were all left grinning like a cluster of Cheshire Cats.

*(Excerpts from ‘The Jabberwocky’)

(Many thanks to MADCO for such an INCREDIBLE show, and to the UMSL Music Department for adding so much with live music! I can’t wait to see what they will all do next!)

3 thoughts on “Mad Hatter- Reporting Arts Critic

    • I must say that I disagree with this. I think the average person off the street is often not as good with finding specificity in even something as simple as what they like and what they don’t. Not everyone is a writer and a lot of people can’t articulate their reactions as wel. Beyond reaction, arts critics should be trained in their discipline so that they can recognixe good use of technique better than the average person. It doesn’t take more than looking at all of those tacky dancer ornaments out there to understand that even artists don’t know how a dancer’s body is supposed to look in certain positions. A critic has better understanding of the work that goes in, and the product that comes out.

  1. Pingback: MADCO: 35th Anniversary Concert Review « BODIES NEVER LIE

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