In recent years, the American Dance Festival, like Duke Performances, has increased the number and type of venues in which it presents work. One of the less formal of these is Motorco music hall, on the hopping corner of Rigsbee Avenue and West Geer Street, in the heart of Durham’s nightlife zone. The stage is small, the room is small, and the bar is open, making for a convivial situation, suitable for lighter-hearted, even zany, dance-theater. A show called Awkward Magic opened there on the 27th, and will run (2 shows/night) through Wed., July 1. It features skits by Gregory Dolbashian, Jordan Isadore and Deborah Lohse, who are joined in some of the 10 short pieces by several other dancers.
I need to say right up front that, generally, I am not a fan of stand-up comedy, or improv, and tend to resent demands for audience participation. I’m not much on art about art (even John Jasperse’ fabulous, highly-styled work “Within Between” at ADF 2014 , with its incredibly inventive movement sequences, lost me when it dropped the drama of dance-making to close with the drearier aspects of the enterprise). I’m also far removed from the rhythms of television, and even further from the cult of celebrity for the its own sake. I fear I lack expertise in frivolity. I absolutely hate it when people call themselves “bitches.” These facts make me a less-than-ideal audience for Awkward Magic.
Nonetheless, I can enjoy a little pointed mockery of the dance world, show business and its creatures.
Although some of the skits made me cringe, I did get real laughs out of “TruDee” and her carryings on, especially her send-up of Merce Cunningham and John Cage and their love of randomness. In “TruDee: Reaching Out” Deborah Lohse, in her TruDee persona, snags an audience member for participation (I was not convinced he wasn’t a plant) in a series of actions made random by shuffling cards describing the action and choosing them randomly (I was not convinced of the randomness, either). It was a cute game, and obviously played well to a dance-informed crowd.
The inside-joke aspect of all the segments was at once a strength and a weakness. An ADF crowd would tend to “get it” whereas a different crowd–say, one that adored Riverdance–might be mostly mystified and then offended. It is one thing to turn the mockery on oneself, as Gregory Dolbashian does in his three skits, but Jordan Isadore’s “Thousands Place: Jody Sawyer Takes a Jazz Class” released a whiff of meanness. Set to music from Riverdance, Isadore and two other dancers (wearing white tennis-y clothes and keds) performed a mockery of Irish dancing that seemed, to my eye, lacking in the essential empathy that makes really good comedy.