Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

American Colonial

April 06, 2012

From L-R: Wade Madsen, Jessie Smith, Peggy Piacenza, Jim Kent, Dave Proscia, and Pol Rosenthal with Dayna Hanson on the floor in Gloria's Cause Photo: Ricardo Miranda 2012.
Choreographer Dayna Hanson and her eight collaborators are taking on the expanse of American History at REDCAT this weekend. Or more accurately their show, Gloria’s Cause, is dragging the myths of America’s founding into the light for further examination. That sounds rather clinical, though, for a show that is often very funny and more often than not very thoughtfully so. The show is tinted in red, white, and blue to be sure; a move with some risk in the midst of a presidential election year where that particular color scheme grows old quickly. But Hanson and co-creators Peggy Piacenza and Dave Proscia serve up a performance of equal parts dance and theater that winningly take on the world of the Founding Fathers in a clever sideways fashion that is neither a broad farce nor an overtly politically-motivated screed.

The loosely arranged scenes don’t follow any narrative and wander from idea to idea with a cast of colonial characters interacting with contemporary counterparts in surreal ways. A central figure and character in all of this is Deborah Sampson Gannett, a colonial woman who disguised herself as a man in order to join the Continental Army during the American Revolution. She was wounded in combat and later honorably discharged and Gloria’s Cause is peppered with allusions to her life and legend. There are a variety of other characters drawn from the same period, both real and imagined. And the scenes they appear in often evoke more of an underlying psychological history than any real iteration of events. Sometimes these events are told through dance and other times they are acted out in a comic but very movement-oriented way. The show pleases early on with a wonderfully imagined version of the 1754 Albany Congress where representatives from several of the original American colonies met to discuss common political concerns.

Such scenes are abutted by others with contemporary tacks including the nine cast members sitting around eating cherry pie and offering childhood reminiscences for comic effect. The iconic bald eagle makes an appearance as well, really Peggy Piacenza in a eagle mask, complete with flag-colored heels and a trench coat covering her red bikini underneath. This is one philosophical eagle, as worried about the state of America as her own self-actualization. But things never settle for long here and the show ricochets from a solo dance with a rifle to an imaginary talk show with continental soldiers surprising one another with unexpected drunken confrontations. All of this is set to original songs written and performed by the group, which gives the show an organic and spontaneous energy. At times the performance turns into a rock concert if only momentarily before heading out again.

Best of all the show is smart, scoring its points about the very inequalities on which America was founded with subtle and direct wit. Hanson taps into a hybrid performance style that recalls choreographers like John Jasperse and Ralph Lemon who’ve had big successes at REDCAT as well in recent years with delightfully unwieldy shows filled with as much theater as dance. Gloria’s Cause is another such success, never preachy nor didactic and filled with acting that feels spontaneous and unforced by everyone involved. Hanson and her players work ideas perfectly, getting just the desired effect and then letting them go before they overstay their welcome. It’s an American Revolution not as it happened or how it is remembered, but one that exists in dreams by turns funny and beautiful. The show has two more performances this weekend. You should see it.


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