Spirited moves

Paula Hunter’s off-kilter world
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 9, 2008

UNDER YOUR SKIN: Hunter’s blend of
storytelling and movement is so trenchant
and funny that you can’t get certain images
out of your head.

Paula Hunter gets under your skin. It’s not just the wild hairdos and costumes, nor the intimate venue of her living room (73 Summit Avenue, Providence). It’s that her unusual blend of storytelling and movement is so trenchant and so funny that you can’t get certain images or phrases out of your head. The final presentations of Home Alone 2 are on October 10 and 11 at 7 pm (more info at 401.529.4391 or paulahunterperformances.com).

Hunter performs solo and with dancers from her youth-based dance company, JUMP! Though most of the work is new, she pulls some pieces from repertory, including three videos from Chopin and Me (2003) and the solo that opens the evening: Stray Girl (1993). It’s a good entrée to her quirky stories and the dance that accompanies them. She sets the scene of herself at 16 — 5’9”, with a size 10 shoe and thick glasses — and of a later attempt to date a man to whom she serves her favorite foods: canned corn, Tater Tots, Oreos, and Tang (she passes the cookies to the audience of 25 or so). She goes to a Bergman movie with him and then there’s a bedroom scene from a Bergman nightmare.

Cue the Mozart, to which she re-enacts the poses and mimed gestures that went along with that story, and audience members are actively engaged in retelling it in their heads. Arms in two triangles around her face expressed her angst over all things social; that leap of joy meant “he” called her.

And so it goes. As always, mentions of her childhood in Michigan and of her parents’ eccentricities creep in. In My Short Skirt Could Kill, a taxi driver sees her in a short-short mini and tells her, “Everyone can see you have the devil between your legs!” Her mother is waiting nearby in the family car and asks her what the cabbie said. Hand in front of her face, Hunter makes something up: “It’s fine to lie to my mother.” This time, the stances and gestures are reenacted by Sophie Herreid, Katie Norton-Bliss, and Ruby Stenhouse, to the strains of Janis Joplin belting out “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder).”

Hunter’s paranoid fantasies are played to the hilt in Breathing, Elevator, and The Donner Party. The first concerns a momentary feeling of not being able to breathe, which leads to a car trip up and down the hills of Wales among the bountiful sheep and a mention that Chopin was terrified of being buried alive. The second has Hunter in a bright yellow shift, with pearls and high heels, pulling a small rolling suitcase that contains a complete tool kit, in case she gets stuck in an elevator. The monologue here is directed at a security person to whom she says, “I think of everything —have you ever heard of the Donner Party?”

And back come Herreid, Norton-Bliss, and Stenhouse, three amazingly polished young dancers, whose physical technique is matched only by their poise and acting ability in these sketches. They are joined by JUMP! tap dancer Jessica Coon in A Cup of Hot Liquid Is a Dangerous Thing, which Hunter narrates as they act out a cocoa disaster. Coon is terrific, keeping her taps a subtle percussive punctuation.

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