Tom Strini

What’s So Funny? Danceworks and The Show

What has modern dance always lacked? Fart noises. Problem solved.

By - Sep 30th, 2012 12:11 am
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“Unattractive Man” Jason Powell, surrounded by (clockwise from 1 p.m.) Melissa Anderson, Joelle Worm, Andrea Moser, Christal Wagner, Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, Liz Zastrow, Dani Kuepper and Karen Estrada. Mark Frohna photo for Danceworks.

Let’s just ignore the sketch about lovely female dancers farting on stage – not that there’s anything wrong with that – and get right to the most imaginative comedy in What’s So Funny?, a joint effort from Danceworks Performance Company and The Show comedy collective.

The best idea in a night of good ideas: Crossing The Black Swan with The Ugly Duckling — not to mention Mean Girls, Fame and Napoleon Dynamite — to get a junior-high dance-department drama of envy, hazing, the supernatural and murder. The Show’s Karen Estrada, as the hapless nerdy girl, managed to build some sympathy despite the absurd conceit of being transformed by the magical powers of the duckbill mask. You can’t help but root for her to bump off mean girl Joelle Worm, who was herself ready to kill for the starring role.

The talented Jason Powell wrote the music and lyrics for and starred in An Unattractive Man. Choreographer Dani Kuepper set Powell amid a bevy of adoring chorines as he sang a patter song about all his admirable qualities and possessions: His comics collection. His action figures. His basement apartment — in his mother’s basement. His prowess in online debate about the relative quality of sci-fi shows. His bald spot. His allergies. In the song’s refrain, he expresses dismay that despite all this, he’s still called an unattractive man. Go figure.

Powell also cast himself as the butt of his own jokes in another song and dance, Date Night. Here, he’s out with the slinky Christal Wagner and all excited about a special gift he has for her. The little box does not contain the expected engagement ring, which enrages Wagner and sets her to belting out a song of complaint and warning. All the while, she yanks Powell through a tango that leaves him crying for mercy.

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Mean girls Zastrow, Wagner and Worm, tormentors of Ugly Duckling Karen Estrada. Mark Frohna photo for Danceworks.

The Show’s Doug Jarecki produced three Pioneers of Dance video episodes, all of them starring the dancers and comedians in various guises. The opening credits and earnest tone nailed the vibe of local public TV documentary production circa 1970. At last, the nearly forgotten pioneer of dance on the radio gets her due.

Andrea Moser and Estrada wrote Stuckuppington Manor, a send-up of BBC upstairs/downstairs period dramas. The aristos, it seems, are just too reserved to express their own emotions. So their staff dances their emotions for them, on cue, in idiotically literal dances by Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, Liz Zastrow, Alberto Cambra and Melissa Anderson. The contrast of the wild gyrations of the servants with the utter deadpan of their betters makes the thing crazily funny. Also, Dani Kuepper should wear that upper-crust ringlet wig all the time. Walk down the street in that thing, Kuepper, and drivers will crash their cars from laughing.

The scripts, the acting and movement mesh beautifully in this show. The actors move surprisingly well, and the dancers know their way around punchlines, both physical and spoken. Everyone can sing. Against all odds, all 14 sketches work, without a stinker among them. Well there is that one, Kuepper’s Qui a coupe le fromage?, with very authentic sound effects by The Show. A cheap laugh, but a good laugh.

The Cast: Danceworks Performance Company, Melissa Anderson, Kim Johnson-Rockafellow, Dani Kuepper, Christal Wagner, Joelle Worm, Liz Zastrow, Alberto Cambra (guest artist); The Show, Karen Estrada, Matt Huebsch, Doug Jarecki, Andrea Moser, Jason Powell. Lighting by Jan Kellogg.

The Schedule: What’s So Funny? opened Friday, Sept. 28 at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. It runs Fridays, Oct. 5 & 12, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Sept. 29, Oct. 6 & 13, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; and Thursday, Oct. 4, 8:30 p.m.

Tickets: $28 reserved seats, $22 general admission, $16 students and seniors. Season subscriptions to DPC are also available $60 for three concerts. For tickets or full subscriptions, call 414-277-8480, ext. 6025, or visit Danceworks’ website. Free parking is available.

Don’t miss anything. Keep track of DPC and all of Milwaukee’s performing arts — bookmark Matthew Reddin’s TCD Guide to the 2012-13 season. Sponsored by the Florentine Opera.

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