Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Dance Review: Last Life at The Brick

Last Life, Pictured Timothy Haskell and Taimak Guarriello. Photo by Ariella GoldsteinLast Life is an R-rated thrill.  Timothy Haskell’s new fight play, performed as part of the two-week long Fight Fest at the BRICK theatre in Williamsburg, takes a time-hopping journey through a dark and violent world, leaving some viewers invigorated and those more sensitive, myself included, a bit queasy.

Watching Last Life is like watching "Kill Bill," only live.  But, since movie edits don’t apply to stage fights, Last Life must deal with the illusion of violence in other ways. Throughout the show there is a special effects man positioned down-stage right, and, at the proper moments, he runs onstage as the action freezes and wipes blood-red paint onto the actors’ smashed faces, severed limbs, and stab wounds.  At one particularly gruesome moment, he tosses a red and sloppy bundle onstage (brains) just as someone’s head gets smashed in.  Nice.

Only the FIERCE Dancers Apply! Last Life’s plot line functions as an excuse for breaking into fight choreography; according to the stagecraft fight world, this is called a "Fightsikall."  Glancing at the program before the show, I learn that the action has been cut and spliced back together out of order, each section labeled Present, 7 Years Ago, 8 Years Ago, etc… But, as I watch the play, there is no way to know when one is. The impression of cause and effect is murky, someone kills someone, then someone kills someone else, and now both parties want revenge… and then something about explosive protein shake.

Last Life, Pictured Timothy Haskell and Taimak Guarriello, Photo by Ariella GoldsteinBut of course, as an excuse for fight scenes, it works great.  Every couple of minutes someone is either tortured, beaten, or killed.  The tiny stage at BRICK is kept clear for fights by leaving actors (when not fighting) in chairs across the back.  The dialogue is performed seated and facing the audience, as if looking at the other member of the conversation who is, in fact, seated two chairs down.  Kudos to Aaron Haskell, as SkinFace, who’s spot on timing, even with lines too explicit to repeat here, offered some much needed comic relief, and Jo-anne Lee, who’s screaming Fenrir belied her less than chilling stature. Unfortunately, this minimal movement flattens some of the other speaking moments, but allows the fight scenes to stand out as thrilling, action-packed, frighteningly real vignettes.

As bodies transition from sitting to flying through the air, rolling on the floor, and brandishing knives in no time, I am impressed not only by the intricacy of the action, but by the athleticism of the performers themselves.  This is a brand of choreography that allows absolutely no margin of error.  If you are late, you will get hurt.  Plus, Haskell’s choreography is not suave or understated.  It’s scrappy, and dirty, and loud, lots of stutter stepping and repeated slapping.  I would imagine it takes lots of concentration to look so desperate and stay so, in reality, safe…  Yowzers!

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Official Dance Review by
Meghan Frederick
Performance:  Last Life
Choreography:  Timothy Haskill
Venue:  The BRICK Theater
Show Date: December 16, 2009


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