Danceworks’ “Vaudeville,” brilliant show-biz with big, odd twists
Did a dance duo conjoined at the hip — real or fake — ever exist on the vaudeville circuit? Maybe, maybe not. But just such an act popped into the special brain of Kelly Anderson, who created it for the Danceworks Performance Company. Holly Keskey and Dani Kuepper, with the benefit linked skirts by costumer Ashley Coffey, danced it Friday, in Anderson’s Vaudeville! The music? Side by Side, naturally, followed by an up-tempo novelty number called Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?
Anderson drew on vaudeville acts as well as old-time dances. The show has a magician and assistant; an exhibition ballroom couple; a drag queen; a maudlin, out-of-control chanteuse (Anderson herself, in a tantrum of a dance by Ed Burgess); a ballerina number; a tumbling act and more. All of them allude to the past without copying it. First, Anderson has expanded on her models with dancerly amplitude and musicality. Second, she’s tweaked them toward her preferences for the hilarious, the stylized, the grotesque, the zany, the virtuosic.
Some of the characters recur, the most significant being the member of the love triangle formed by Christal Wagner, Simon Eichinger and Melissa Anderson. Eichinger, absurdly appointed with a handlebar mustache, plays the wolf in pursuit of Wagner, whose sensually swaying hips could stop trains. They are dynamite together. Their unconventional Charleston embodies the chase, which the knowing Wagner lets the lucky fellow win. She flows off, satisfied.
M. Anderson pops out of the wings all blond, petite and adorable in toe shoes and a little girl’s pink and white dream of a tutu. She sets her sights on Eichinger, the hunter becomes the hunted, and hilarity ensues. Kelly Anderson had the theatrical wit to follow that with a bathetic solo for Melissa, centered on smiling, optimistic pulling up into ballet posture en pointe, and then collapsing it joint by joint. This touching dance explained how loneliness might drive a woman to throw herself at someone else’s man. The poignant notes — and I would place guest artist Ben Follensbee’s bold drag act, to Eartha Kitt’s I Want to Be Evil, among them — made the comedy all the more effective.
Close, unconventional partnering abounds in Vaudeville! In addition to being one of the conjoined sisters, Keskey got together with Coin-Operated Boy Steven Zarzecki. He’s an automaton made for cuddling and more, a Coppelio for the Modern Girl. They interacted quickly and precisely, with Zarzecki relentlessly mechanical through it all. Anderson again seized the opportunity to reflect the nifty words of a song in some nifty mime-dance. I love the way Keskey slipped into and out of her boy toy’s way of moving. As funny and clever as all this was, you felt for another lonely Vaudeville! girl.
The dancers get physical in all 14 numbers in this one-hour show (it just flies by). Anderson challenged them in unconventional ways, and they not only executed the movement, they ate it up. I walked out of that little theater thinking: There’s no people like show people.
More Vaudeville! performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18-20; 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday Feb. 24-27 at Danceworks, 1661 N. Water St. Tickets are $20 and $25, $15 for students and seniors. Order at the Danceworks website or call 414 277-8480 ext. 6025.