Doug Elkins & Friends at Jacob’s Pillow
August 26, 2009 performance reviewed by Jocelyn McGrath.
Too short. That was the first thought I had when it became clear that this marvelous show was over. Though at a wild and ranging 70 minutes that wasn’t really it; I simply wasn’t ready to leave, and would happily have sat through the entire thing again. Inspired by The Sound of Music, this show has the same quality of entering a timeless, protected space, a vacation, a psychic retreat to a lovely, twisted, heart-filled, genderbending wonderworld. It’s not really your typical parody or a spoof –the material is treated with too much respect and affection. And the characters, though sometimes broad, are fully embodied with a real humanity—so much humanity that Maria is played by three dancers (one is a guy), as if her wholesome vitality is so overwhelming it needs to be divvied up. Fräulein Maria is an alternate reality, one in which the Nazi presence is so slight that nobody needs to escape in the end. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
If you are not amused by men in dresses, then this production may not be for you. And despite the Sound of Music theme, whether this show is appropriate for children should be a judgment call based on the specific child and your family’s values. I suspect that the bawdier humor would probably go over the heads of most children, while the romping physical energy and sight gags would completely fit the bill. The most delicate sensibility to consider would be the tween or young teen—old enough to get it, but young enough to be embarrassed.
Doug Elkins, a self proclaimed “style thief,” started messing with the dichotomy of high and low art when he was at college, when it was still radical, well before the dance establishment’s legitimization of hip-hop. In that magpie instincts of a B-boy, Elkins has pulled movement vocabulary from around the globe—Balinese dance, flamenco, Scottish country dancing, Chinese fan dancing, Tahitian dance, tango—as well as martial arts, including aikido, capoeira, judo and wrestling holds. Fräulein Maria is a huge, glorious, mish-mosh of so many sources, so densely meshed that it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the references. Some are clear, but often the movement flashes by and the brain can only respond a moment later. It is dizzying in the best sense.
Created in 2006, this show was reprised due to popular demand and critical acclaim. In 2008, Elkins received a Bessie for it, and has become a holiday tradition at Joe’s Pub in New York. More than the sum of its parts, Fräulein Maria is the kind of theatrical experience that asks for repetition. It gives us what we long for—beauty, laughs, and a world in which we are exhorted to climb every mountain and love each other as well as we can.
- review: Doug Varone and Dancers – August 12, 2009
- review: Les Grand Ballet Canadiens – July 29, 2009
- review: Ballet Maribor in Radio and Juliet – July 1, 2009
- archives: Merce Cunningham at MASS MoCA – Oct. 28, 2000
- archives: Merce Cunningham’s gift (reminiscence)
- Free exhibits and archives at Jacob’s Pillow