Magazine article Dance Magazine

Not the Same Old Shpeel: The New Cirque Show Dances to a Vaudeville Beat

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Not the Same Old Shpeel: The New Cirque Show Dances to a Vaudeville Beat

Article excerpt

It's a good bet that early 21st-century dancers haven't given a great deal of thought to vaudeville. They might have paged through books documenting its heyday from the 1880s to the 1930s. Or they might have seen a revival of Gypsy, the Broadway musical that chronicles the fate of a showbiz family scrambling to survive in vaudeville's waning days.

But the notion of "hoofing it" in a zany scenario that reimagines the vaudeville world--with tap, hip hop and "eccentric dancing" (anything from contortionist moves to "rubberlegs" to the more recent "robot" and "voguing" moves)--is a bit unexpected. Nevertheless, in collaboration with MSG Entertainment, Cirque du Soleil decided it was time to reinvigorate the form. So here comes an elaborate entertainment with a big budget, up-to-the-minute stagecraft, and turbo-charged music bearing the slippery title Banana Shpeel. The show, which had a tryout earlier this winter at the Chicago Theatre, opens Feb. 11 at New York's Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side.

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Written and directed by David Shiner, who staged Cirque du Soleil's Kooza in 2007, Banana Shpeel spins the story of Schmelky, a vindictive vaudeville producer who is holding auditions for his latest show. The tryouts attract a series of clowns--pathetic losers one and all--who proceed to run wild, churning up oldstyle mayhem and slapstick, with extreme acrobatics and a slew of flashy dance numbers. It's a show that clearly demands what Jared Grimes, its 26-year-old choreographer (cover stow, May 2007), describes as "triple-threat performers."

Last November, Grimes--who can dance up a storm while simultaneously talking a blue streak--was putting the final touches on one of the show's big eccentric dance numbers. He shifted between demonstrating and gently critiquing his ensemble of 12 dancer-singer-actors as they ran through the funkily playful moves of his hybrid "tap-hop" style. …

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