When I first saw Dance Marathon in 2009, I thought it was a stupendous idea but flawed in execution. The show has just had a repeat visit as part of the World Stage festival and it’s still a stupendous idea – but the flaws are also still there.
The collective bluemouth inc. creates site-specific, interactive theatre. Dance Marathon is a re-creation of a form of entertainment that was popular during the Great Depression of the 1930s in which couples literally danced until they dropped; the last couple standing was the “winner.”
Back then, it was a way of making money when jobs were scarce. It was also a humiliating experience, with games designed to provoke laughter and offer entertainment for an audience.
For the dance marathon’s latest incarnation, the theatre was converted into an open space. At one end was a bandstand featuring bluemouth members Steve Charles (leading the action), Richard Windeyer (drummer and DJ) and Ciara Adams, a.k.a. Lady Jane (vocalist and guitarist). They were joined by local players on keyboard, trumpet and sax.
At the other end of the theatre was the bar (which was very busy; freebie water coolers were also set up for the hourly five-minute breaks). A huge video screen showed pre-recorded and livecam images and a huge cloth mirror ball functioned as a screen.
Clearly, the large crowd that came to this event were there to have fun and participate in a dance party. And the beginning was very amusing. On the floor were outlines of feet with numbers in them corresponding to contestants’ pinnies – but not always the partner they arrived with.
From there, the couples were joined in various dance lessons and contests, including two so-called Derbies (where partners walk, slow down or stop as lights turn green, yellow and red), a snowball dance (where one partner is blindfolded) and elimination dances. A referee on roller skates (Daniel Pettrow) made sure the participants kept their feet moving or were eliminated.
But this is where the flaws come in: First, there was too long a lag between events although couples were dancing to upbeat disco, so they might not have noticed. Secondly, among the participants with pinnies were 22 local volunteer ringers, plus two bluemouth cast members – Little Stevie (Stephen O’Connell) and Ramona (Lucy Simic).
In other words, there is little in the show left to chance. The emcee, for example, pretends to list off contestants’ special dance skills. But the guy who showed off his special skill as a burlesque dancer, the guy who just happened to have his harmonica with him and the girl who could do aerial silks were all ringers. Ditto for the groups of people who occasionally burst into choreographed movement. Not to mention Ramona, who kept popping up doing acts like folk songs in her native language.
So here’s a fabulous idea about interactive theatre that never properly interacts with the audience. A bigger artist risk – and payoff – would be a truly unrehearsed, spontaneous show that catches even the ringers by surprise.
- bluemouth inc.
- Harbourfront Centre World Stage
- Enwave Theatre
- In Toronto on Friday