Tuesday, August 6, 2013

At Zombie Joe's They're Dancing on the Edge

Donna Noelle Ibale and JJ Dubon. Photos by Denise Devin

No matter what kind of a production ZJU Theatre Group is working on you can bet they’ll throw themselves into it with everything they’ve got. Their latest, a dance performance piece called Dancing on the Edge, is no exception. Staying true to their overall aesthetic of raw, creative, smartly crafted original works, it blends multiple styles of movement and dance to create an emotionally rich experience completely free of words.

Denise Devin directs the seven dancers (JJ Dubon, Donna Noelle Ibale, Randall Morris, Zee Smith, Jade Waters-Burch, Cody Whitley, and Nicole Wormley) in solo works and ensemble pieces that have been choreographed by Carrie Nedrow and cast members Ibale, Waters-Burch, Whitley and Morris.

The result is a dynamic range of emotions that finds its characters teetering on the edge – of joy, of despair, of beauty and even pain. Dubon begins the show with “Hurt,” a throbbing, broken-hearted solo that immediately grabs the audience with its dark intensity. In “Ma Coeur Mort,” featuring Smith, Morris and Ibale, the counterpoint of two dancers vs. one reveals the precarious balance of a relationship through movement.

Cody Whitley in "Animal"
(And no, that's not the floor. He's upside down on a step ladder against the wall!)

Randall Morris and Zee Smith

Ibale and Morris are later featured in a strip tease called “Home Safe” with floating hands extending from the curtain in a playful expression of freedom. Morris then crashes Nicole Wormley’s beautiful classical ballet number (nice fouettés) with a burst of unexpected comedy. By the time the show reaches “M,” featuring the same three dancers in a piece that illustrates how difficult it is to disentangle oneself from the baggage of past love, it is ready to explode.

Whitley’s self-choreographed “Animal” is a jaw-dropping, gravity-defying piece of unforgettable athleticism, and Smith kills with her hip hop moves and fast footwork in more than one number. Waters-Burch is all cute and flirty personality in “Vaudeville Circus: Fantasia” and “Clown Frolic.” She joins Wormley and Ibale in a comedy-turned-Pussycat Doll fantasy entitled “Redemption” late in the show that re-invents the threesome as their sexy alter-egos.

“Many Toys Celebrate Solstice” is like being caught in the Twilight Zone of the forest with the oddest bunch of characters ever, and there are numerous comedy bits I won’t spoil by divulging the gags here. A dramatic Paso Doble, a gorgeous Swan Lake ballet with a twist, and moves that could rival contestants on So You Think You Can Dance – all of it adds up to a very moving performance. In a final burst of wild energy, the ensemble closes with Zedd’s “Clarity” and sends the audience out on a high.

I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I wanted to see the show was because the performance space is a tiny black box, with a stage barely six or seven feet deep, though wider than normal with the removal of one of the short rows of seats by the entrance. I wondered if a dance show would work in this small theater. Does it ever. Devin puts her own dance background to good use and creates a natural rise and fall of emotions with her staging that is very powerful. Her dancers are terrific and each one excels at his or her given strengths. It’s a mini-dance spectacular.

Jade Waters-Burch
A Theatrical Dance Event
Directed by Denise Devin
Produced by Zombie Joe
August 3 - Sept 22, 2013
ZJU Theatre Group
4850 Lankershim Blvd.
N. Hollywood, CA 91601
Reservations: (818) 202-4120
Tickets: $15

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