“The Dream Dancer,” part of the Capital Fringe Festival, is an intriguing but flawed dance theatre production that veers between well-executed movement pieces and dialogue that is stilted and didactic.
Giffin and Thompson have a solid rapport…
The charismatic John Giffin, a veteran dancer and choreographer, begins the piece by entering from the house in the dress of a vaudeville magician. Once on stage, he rehearses a few simple tricks, then is interrupted by the arrival of Jeanine Thompson, portraying an actor who is seeking a gig as his assistant.
While this introductory vignette, and the production’s marketing materials make it look like the audience is in store for a light romp about old-timey mesmerism and sleight-of-hand, what follows is a psychosexual look at how historical figures like French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and Swiss hypnotist Emile Magnin exploited women to promote their own theories and careers.
First, Giffin as Charcot demonstrates his since-discredited theory of female hysteria on Thompson, portraying a patient with disturbing authenticity. Next, Giffin as Magnin compels Thompson, playing a hypnotized dancer, to perform like a marionette. Both scenes focus on Thompson’s strengths as a movement performer; Giffin’s dance skills are relegated to interstitial moments between the scenes.
The strongest scene comes when Thompson, back in her role as the job applicant, turns the tables on Giffin’s magician in a manner reminiscent of David Ives’s “Venus in Fur”: the woman takes control, and the dominant man is stripped down, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, this compelling scene is accompanied by a heavy-handed monologue in which Thompson’s character lays claim to the mantle of a long list of feminist heroes.
This scene is the only one where the performers’ two styles of movement are really made to work together. It is all too short, but offers a promising hint at what these two (who have performed together as similar characters in an earlier production) can create with further revision. Giffin and Thompson have a solid rapport, though in this production it falls just short of genuine chemistry. Devoting more of their stage time to their impressive physical skills, and less to dialogue, may help to build it.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 13 and up.
“The Dream Dancer” at the Elstad Auditorium at Gallaudet University will run through July 22. For tickets and more information, click here.