Image courtesy of the Everest Academy for the Arts.
Introspect Dance Company will present their original show, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, on Thursday through Saturday, July 21-23, 2011, at the DC Everest Senior High School Theatre. Shows begin at 7:30 pm each evening. Tickets are $10 for adults or $5 for students and for each ticket sold $1 will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. This performance of the Introspect Dance Company is sponsored by the Everest Academy for the Arts.
On Monday night, July 18, 2011, Lindsay Kujawa invited me to watch a dress rehearsal of this year’s production from Introspect Dance Company, titled Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. Kujawa is the playwright, director, and choreographer for the show, and is also the founder of the dance company which staged its first performance in 2009. This year’s production, their third, is slated to be the last IDC production in Wausau. In the fall, Kujawa is headed for the brighter lights of New York, along with her musical director (who, incidentally, is also her fiance), Nathan Barr.
The Introspect Dance Company Back Story
(For those of you who like back stories…)
Introspect Dance Company is composed of two primary elements, the Band and the Dance Core. The Introspect Band is led by Barr and is made up of local musicians and singers who audition for their spots annually, historically in March or April. They provide live music on stage for all of the performances and begin rehearsing music and vocals in advance of the formation of the Dance Core. The Dance Core is auditioned by Kujawa in May and begins a rigorous rehearsal schedule in late May or early June.
All members of the Company must be under 25. In point of fact, virtually everyone associated in any way with IDC productions is under 25, with the exception of sound designer Abe Gabor, who, in fairness, is quite young at heart.
Past IDC Performances
IDC’s 2009 inaugural show, Waiting On The World To Change, consisted of a series of vignettes depicting contemporary social issues, played out entirely through choreography, performed with no set and minimal props. The Band, including the vocalists, was relegated to shadows at the back of the stage, and the story arc of each vignette was entirely encapsulated in an individual song. Behind the scenes, the show was produced by Central Wisconsin Children’s Theatre.
For 2010, given the mature subject matter that IDC deals with and CWCT’s typical focus on high schoolers or younger, Kujawa approached the then all new Everest Academy for the Arts to see if they would be interested in underwriting Introspect. Indeed, they were, affording Kujawa the freedom to take her next performance, How To Save A Life, into very dark waters. For the sophomore production, Kujawa developed a number of intertwined story lines with a narrative arc that spanned the entire performance, again, though, played out entirely through choreography. The Band moved into the spotlight, both literally and figuratively. Musicians took their places on risers and above and below a two-story platform, forming the frame on stage within which the dancers performed. Throughout the performance, singers moved into and out of the action with the dancers, with occasional songs featuring only the band with no dance at all. The end result was an amalgamated dance show/rock show with themes ranging from domestic violence to teen suicide, with an Act I closer that left wide-eyed audience members whispering to each other, “Did what I think just happened, really just happen?”
Image courtesy of Everest Academy for the Arts.
At its heart, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant is the story of strangers meeting for the first time. Each character has a past, and has to decide what, if anything, to reveal of themselves to their new acquaintance, how to react to the things revealed to them, and how to manage the consequences of being forthright, or not. The revelations range from the mundane ("My girlfriend slept around,") to the profound ("I just got out of jail"). Along the way, each takes a few steps toward learning that we need not be defined by the things that happen to us.
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant is the most ambitious undertaking Introspect has attempted. On one hand, elements have been added to the show that make this year’s performance feel more like a traditional musical theater presentation. Those elements, though, have added a level of challenge for the performers that they haven’t had to confront in previous years. On the other hand, the addition of some traditional elements has paved the way for some new dramatic techniques that will help keep the audience engaged in new and different ways as well.
For the 2011 show, Kujawa added "playwright" to her list of duties and wrote dialogue to bridge the action between musical numbers. This year’s show also features an actual set. It’s a minimalist set; a few tables and chairs, a couple of restaurant-style booths, and a counter with stools; but it’s a set, all the same, and the performers need to contend with it. So, too, they have to contend with straight acting to deliver dialogue, which is at least somewhat different from the skills needed to convey emotion during a song or dance. Most of the members of the company, and all of the principal dancers and vocalists, have extensive musical theater backgrounds, though, reducing the impact of these structural changes.
Introducing dialogue, of course, makes it easier to move the story line forward than relying completely on choreography to tell the tale. With that freedom, though, Kujawa was able to add layers of complexity to her story telling. This year’s story lines rely heavily on flashbacks and non-linear time lines, which are hard to mime, but are easy to explain with a few lines of spoken words.
Then, just to keep the audience on their toes, each of the five principal characters is portrayed by multiple performers. Each of the male characters has a singer/actor and a dancer. The singer/actor delivers the character’s dialogue and sings the character’s songs, but the singers fade to back when the music starts, and a dancer representing the same character takes the front of the stage. Early in the show, the two characters are dressed the same way to help the audience get the hang of things, but as time lines shift so do the costumes, so you’ll need to stay on top of your game to follow along.
Each of the female characters is actually depicted by three performers. First is the singer/actor, again singing and delivering lines, but then they each have a dancer representing their character now, and a different dancer representing them as children. At one point in the show, the singer/actor representing one character is upstage on a platform singing, while her contemporary dancer self on stage left recalls a dream she had about being a young girl. The dream is acted out on stage right by the younger dancer. One scene, three performers, one character.
Is it too much for the audience to figure out?
No, actually, it’s not.
The fact is, one could take in this show, enjoy the dancing, enjoy the singing, pay no attention whatsoever to the story line, and come away feeling thoroughly entertained. Alternatively, one could come to all three performances, pay scrupulous attention to detail, maybe even take notes, and still be discovering new intricacies on closing night. The beauty of a show that asks a lot from its audience is that the show ends up giving the audience a lot in return.
For three years running, Introspect Dance Company keeps on giving. Don’t miss this farewell performance. Consider not missing it twice.