Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Dance Review: 1, 2, 3, 4, — Go Beowulf!

Beowulf  Photo by Jessica Palopoli Beowulf: “This is how tough I am: 1, 2, 3, 4” – break into campy rock and roll.

Take tights, song, severed limbs, mix together and you have Banana Bag and Bodice’s Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage presented by Shotgun Players at the Abrons Arts Center.


Lights up:  three academics descend into the orchestra pit at the front of the stage. Only their upper torsos are visible. They proceed to introduce the story of Beowulf, an old English epic poem, dating to as early as the 8th century.  They overlap sentences and words, alter the cadence, and repeat.  Eerie feedback persists, and transports them into the story.  Curtain rises revealing actors, set, and band; the story begins.


The set design is superb:  a castle wall is really a huge wall of fans.  At center stage is a large raised platform with four microphones (one at each corner) hanging from the ceiling and almost touching the floor.  Picking up and using a microphone enforces extreme physicalization throughout the story.  When released the microphone swings across the stage in sweeping arcs.


Beowulf photo by Jessica Palopoli Storytelling transfers from the academics’ narration to the actors’ illustration, with various intermediary relationships.  In a very fun scene, the battle between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother (Beowulf has previously slain Grendel), aquariums are pulled onstage to symbolize the sea.  The academics get into a water fight and spray the audience.  But, with the potential to be thought provoking and illuminating, too often the academics’ dialogue feels geared to an elementary school audience.

Grendel’s mother, Jessica Jelliff, is intensely engaging with her bent-over stance and fierce voice in mourning her lost son and then attacking Beowulf.
Beowulf photo by Jessica PalopoliThroughout the show there is recurrence of eating/consumption and the graphic description of violence.  As physical theater moments resonate, sometimes parody manifests as a mockery or lack of physicalization.  The first fight, between Beowulf and Grendel, is acted in a pretending manner.  This nonchalance comes up in the words as well; in the final battle between academic/dragon and Beowulf, the academic casually repeats, “That’s just not cool” at the heat of an argument.

The band is dynamite.  Dancing by two women punctuates many of the songs;  they are chorus girls, slain soldiers and townspeople.  It is rife with leg kicks, pelvis thrusts, and crotch shots.  The campy dance functions as entertainment and assists in the narrative’s parody.

The experimentation with a nonchalant manner in telling the story presents an interesting concept, but it proves too easy to undercut the story.  Regardless, Beowulf is entertaining, and who would have thought it could be a fun Rock’n’Roll musical?
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iDANZ Critix Corner 
Official Dance Review by
Leah Schrager
Performance: Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage
Choreographer(s):  Banana Bag & Bodice
Venue: Abrons Art Center
, New York City
Date:  April 12, 2009

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