New show brings dance to Ithaca’s “Kitchen”

Music performed by: Linda Case, Andrea Merril, Rosie Elliot (Cayuga Chamber Orchestra)

Presented by Kitchen Theatre Company

Location  417 W. State / W. MLK, Jr. Street,  Ithaca

Dates Now through Oct. 9

Runtime: 80 minutes, no intermission

Tickets $23-35

Review By Dani Villalobos

Walking into Kitchen Theatre Company’s “In the Company of Dancers,” I was a little wary of the “movement theatre” concept.

It’s not that I’m a dance purist- quite the opposite. Contracted torsos that disrupt the Balanchine line make me giddy in their rebellion. The melding of dance, music and voice in musical theatre brings a potency to the performance that is unrivalled.

Still, I was marginally dubious. Are these actors who are merely pretending to be dancers, or dancers that can act? Is this a play or more of a dance concert?

As it turns out, this piece blends multiple genres, although the dances were mainly modern and contemporary. And I found myself captivated by the mesmeric collaboration of movement and live, classical music in the theater’s intimate setting.

It’s not surprising that a company that describes itself as “bold, intimate, engaging” would depart from the traditional theatre format for a show in its 21st season lineup. This piece showcases an ensemble of 11 actors and dancers performing to the talents of Cayuga Chamber Orchestra violinist Linda Case, first cellist Rosie Elliott, and guest pianist Andrea Merrill.

Last season KTC artistic director Rachel Lampert  co-choreographed “Summers at Rock Edge” with Lindsay Gilmour.

The duo teamed up again to create a story that addresses the fleeting moments that make up a dancer’s lifetime. With the cue “Musicians, dancers, are you ready?” the dancers casually stepped onstage and Dvorak Piano Trio #4 filled the room. The show began with a series of warm-ups, as the dancers weaved throughout one another, swirling around with reaching arms or sharp gestures that emulated the music.

The final notes signaled for all but one dancer to exit, and the first words were spoken. Deborah, played by KTC veteran Norma Fire, broke into a soliloquy about her former years as a professional dancer while a box of memorabilia was rolled onstage. Suddenly, she addressed the audience directly- slamming through the fourth wall with an explanation of what was about to unfold. She was asked to dig through these relics collected over her dancing career and respond to a list of questions for an archival project.

Fire moved throughout the space to interact with audience members, requesting that they ask specific questions and mocking the simplicity of queries like, “When did you start dancing?” As she reminisces about her introduction into dance as a young girl, a group of dancers in frothy, Grecian-inspired costumes enter the stage and bring her memory of “Isadorables Dance Studio” to life. The clothing and the openness of the motions resemble modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, who inspired the studio’s name.

A pattern began to emerge. Fire pulled out trinkets from the box, and the dancers actualized them. While this formula may seem basic, if not tedious after 15 musical selections, the organic way in which each was executed was anything but. The dependency of Lampert’s and Gilmour’s choreography on the instrumental accompaniment was integral to the performance’s setup. If the sound was smooth and saccharine, the movement was fluid and innocent.

The duet between dancer Ryan MacDonnell and cellist Elliott illustrated this perfectly, as he mimicked her gestures with his quick fingers and swiveling arms. Signs of concentration lined both faces as they reacted naturally to the music. This is also apparent in the pedestrian, quirky steps set to Shostakovich’s macabre Piano Trio in E minor. The odd nose-scratching and the dancer’s eccentric hats were offset by precise leg extensions and graceful attitude pirouettes.

These technical components were challenging for the multigenerational cast to grapple with. Some knees knobby and groins less flexible – but the zeal each had for the movement and one another overshadowed any unbalance. In the “Restless Sleep: Suite of Dances” segment, the theatrical and playful way they would rely on one another with their bodies, breath or simple smile felt like peering into a warm recollection of a family of dancers.

Riddled with humor and intricate choreography, “In the Company of Dancers” captures the relationships formed between performers and their musical counterparts.