nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
March 19, 2011
My 5- and 7-year-olds are New Victory old hands—they know when we arrive at the theater they will be able to unload their various coats, swim gear, and so forth in a free locker; wash their hands with ease, thanks to the step stools in the bathrooms; and be offered a booster seat so they can see the stage. They also know they’ve seen many shows at the New Vic and enjoyed them all, so they were pretty psyched as they took their seats for Theatre Rites dance piece Mischief.
As the curtain opened, tall vertical silhouettes appeared, invoking an indeterminate landscape. Was it a forest or an industrial setting? Within moments, a beat-boxing man sauntered through and took his seat at a keyboard at the far down left corner of the stage, and shadows of people began sneaking their way through the columns. Suddenly, lights, colors, action! The dancers pulled down and broke apart the columns, which turned out to be colorful foam pieces. Throughout the next hour, the foam lines were manipulated into geometric shapes, squiggles, animals, and puppets of various sizes—often mimicked by the dancers’ bodies.
Though Mischief kept my children happily entertained, it succeeds more often as a multimedia piece than as a dance work. The strength of the live music and the design sometimes overwhelms the choreography, while the comic elements distract from the expressive possibilities of movement itself. The imbalance is remedied about halfway through, when the choreographer seemed to be given permission to allow the performers to really dance, instead of tying them to demonstrating all of the ways a line can be bent and reshaped.
That being said, the imaginative possibilities offered by visual artist Sophie Clist’s colorful and pliable lines mirror a child’s habit of finding that a box and packing materials can offer more scope for creative play than the toy inside. This combined with Guy Hoare’s lighting design, which features saturated jewel tones and sharply defined areas, creates fertile space on stage. As for Charlie Winston’s music, performed live by the charismatic Phil King—it deserves a show of its own. My kids were intrigued to see and hear vocal and keyboard samples created, looped, and then woven into fully realized songs and instrumental numbers on stage in real time, and King’s serenade of a small, tight-rope walking, foam stick figure manipulated by two dancers was a highlight of the show.
Though I found the clowning and comic elements fairly standard and predictable, my kids thought they were genius. My son absolutely loved seeing Rachel Donovan, whose character just doesn’t have the knack of working with the foam lines that the other performers do, get into trouble, and my daughter, deciding Donovan was the “little sister,” was a little worried that she wasn’t getting much assistance. They also both really enjoyed a hip hop dance-off between a dancer and foam puppet that turned into a comic fight scene. Not surprisingly, both kids were thrilled when some of the foam made its way out into the audience and they got to touch it.
While I recommend Mischief for younger kids (4-9 is probably a good bet), expect to leave the theater with excited kids asking questions like “How can a piano keep playing by itself?” “How did they get the foam pieces to stick together?” and “Why did she put that on her head?” rather than “How can I learn to dance like that?”