Theatre Review: It’s All About Suspension of Disbelief

review

Journey In, produced by Missouri Contemporary Ballet: seen March 30, 2012

Any form of entertainment, from theatre to dance to music to writing, has to grab your interest and keep it. The audience’s readiness to buy into what the artist is doing is held together by a willing suspension of disbelief – the concept that we are with the artist every step of the way.

Missouri Contemporary Ballet started off their production of Journey In with a bang, their first of six dances (“hand in hand”) being a sexy beat where the dancers are almost animalistic in nature. The dancers have a lot of energy, and overcome the few times the dancers seem hesitant in their steps.

Photo courtesy Missouri Contemporary Ballet
Photo courtesy Missouri Contemporary Ballet

However, it was after this first dance that the first breaking of my willing suspension of disbelief happened, as the curtain was closed and the house lights came up – and stayed up for close to five minutes (long enough to make me wonder if somehow we were already at intermission).

As someone who’s acted, directed, and stage managed before, I know how difficult it is sometimes to get scene and costume changes to a short time level. But I also know there are plenty of things you can do to trim this time. After all, once I changed my costume in full view of part of the cast back stage as I knew I wouldn’t have time to go to someplace private. The fact that this break (including the house lights going up) happened after each dance made my willingness to buy back into the concept of dance harder and harder each time. As the variety of smart phones that started coming out during these breaks showed, I wasn’t the only one that lost interest each time it happened.

The second dance, “Hold On: A suite of three short works”, started up, and my favorite part of contemporary dance showed up as dancer Fernando Rodriguez came out wearing jeans. However, Rodriguez seemed to be straining with his part a bit too much. The third section of this dance also had some stuttering of the dancing, like they either didn’t rehearse enough – or rehearsed way too much. The uncertainty of the dancing was something I kept noticing – it was just in some places, making me worried about dancers as they were held aloft. But then there were places, like in the end of the fifth segment, “May … or May Not”, and the last section of the last segment, “Journey In”, where I was completely with the dance and the dancers, not wanting to applaud as I didn’t want to break the spell.

Sound was also a continual issue: a little too loud in the first segment, an odd echo in the second, an odd transition between two completely different music sections (actually no transition), in the third, an odd popping sound in the fifth, and the cutting of the music about three seconds too soon in a couple of different sections, not helping that suspension of disbelief. But the tech definitely needed some work, as I wondered more than once how much time the company had in the space before the performance. I was informed that when this will be performed in their home city of Columbia, there will be live music instead of taped – and that may help.

A great performance takes the audience in, and needs to keep them engaged. Even if the audience is sympathetic toward the performers, any little bit can add or detract from that engagement. I’ve written before about how I don’t know much about ballet, but I do know I enjoy contemporary dance. While Missouri Contemporary Ballet had some good dancing, there were too many times my disbelief was strained.

Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s next performance is LIVE: Experience the Journey, on April 13 & 14 at Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts in Columbia. For more information, visit missouricontemporaryballet.com.

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