Phantoms and fantasy

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  July 28, 2010

Carson spoke the text alongside Robert Currie, the two of them moving around the space creating visual effects with a spotlight and an overhead slide projector. Mitchell and Silas Riener, also from the Merce Cunningham company, went through obsessive bouts of tortured or risky movements. Sometimes one man would be standing or sitting still for long periods of time, watching the other scramble along the floor on his back or brace himself against a perforated wall.

But then there were oddly tender episodes of rescue. One man runs, leading with his head, pitched forward until he seems certain to fall. Sometimes he does fall. Sometimes the other man catches him in the nick of time. With Mitchell lying on the floor, Riener carefully arranged his arms, then pumped his chest in slow-motion CPR. Mitchell reciprocated, pushing Riener upright against the wall, and Riener's ribcage accelerated into spasms when Mitchell took his hands away. Riener slid down the wall and somehow crawled out into the space on his elbows, coming to a halt with his butt in the air, his toes and head on the floor. Mitchell watched for a while, then walked over and sat down, wrapping himself around Riener's feet. I thought of it as a farewell to a brother.

The whole evening was thoughtful and disorienting. With its silences and optical surprises, its interrupted moves and dissociated effects, it defeated "meaning" and yet made a meaningful impression. Cunningham would have approved.

Cirque du Soleil — whose newest show, Ovo, opened a week ago Thursday for five weeks at Fan Pier — takes the opposite route. When it's successful, a Cirque show can synthesize extravagant production elements and performer virtuosity to create unexpected visions. Ovo had only a few of these moments for me. Eggs of various sizes ("ovo" means egg in Portuguese) make their appearance, but they're only what Alfred Hitchcock would call a MacGuffin, a device for setting the wheels in motion. The real theme is insects, who inspire the zany costumes and squatty, jerky movements and enormous weblike sets. But the show — written, directed, and choreographed by Deborah Colker — has nothing much to do with bug behavior, let alone the bugs' relationship to their eggs.

If anything, the plot is about the love affair of two clowns, Michelle Matlock as a plus-size ladybug who behaves like Marilyn Monroe, and François-Guillaume Leblanc as an excitable and easily distracted fly. Around them we have the usual fabulous trapeze artists, jugglers, and acrobats doing decorative handstands, rubbery backbends, flips, swan dives, half-gainers, triple somersaults, and trampoline-assisted aeronautics.

What I liked best about the show was the expressive, subverbal patois in which the characters communicated, and the cocoon that oozed up a rope and eventually sprouted butterfly wings. And the six female Chinese acrobats who lay on their backs and, in time to the earsplitting music, coolly juggled an assortment of drums, cylinders, and trays — and eventually one another.

On Friday night, Summer Stages returned to its home base at Concord Academy for Misters and Sisters (Part One), a new cabaret show by David Parker and members of the Bang Group. The show is a nostalgic series of songs and dances, mostly from the 1950s and '60s, when gays were deep in the closet and acted out their dreams by imitating Debbie Reynolds behind their locked bedroom doors. At least, David Parker did.

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