'Studio' Shows Graceful Art; Play Demonstrates the Work of Creating a Dance Piece

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

'Studio' Shows Graceful Art; Play Demonstrates the Work of Creating a Dance Piece


Byline: Jayne Blanchard, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Are "The Turning Point" and "The Company" your favorite movies? Does "At the Ballet" rank as your all-time favorite number from the musical "A Chorus Line?"

If so, then Christopher d'Amboise's "play with dance" known as "The Studio," now playing at Signature Theatre, will appeal to the George Balanchine in your soul.

Winningly staged by Mr. d'Ambroise (son of noted dancer and teacher Jacques d'Amboise), this forceful and intimate work goes behind the barre to reveal the sweat and maddening precision that goes into creating a dance piece.

In 90 breathtaking minutes, the play glides between exquisitely graceful bodies in motion and the agonies the dancer and choreographer endure to perfect each step. Featuring music by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Schubert, and Prokofiev that will be familiar to anyone who has ever set foot in a ballet studio, "The Studio" is a balletomane's dream and a compelling look into the artistic process for those who don't know "Swan Lake" from a Swanson's frozen dinner.

Emil (the archly affected Stephen Lee Anderson) is an imposing cause celebre choreographer in the Balanchine-Jerome Robbins-Mark Morris mold, touted as a genius for his early works "Tight Rope" and "Pretty Ugly," but someone who has vanished from the dance scene for years. Presumably, he's working on his opus, Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," but the public has yet to see a single jete.

Working with his longtime lead dancer, Jackie (Tyler Hanes), Emil tries out infinite variations on a never-ending list of ballerinas for hire, but he appears to have met his match in the spirited, insecure Lisa (Chryssie Whitehead). She refuses to be used and discarded and is determined to see this work produced and take her place in the spotlight.

The first part of "The Studio" takes us into Emil's often comically quirky and epigrammatic choreography style, as he tries to form the piece first by drawing squiggly shapes on a white wall and then translating these doodles into steps he calls "the flying nun," "sticky feet" and "jack-in-the-box." Crazily enough, Jackie knows just what he wants and Lisa starts catching on - even when Emil's versions of the dance reel into the double digits, with subsets like an outline gone out of control.

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