Within in the first five minutes of draMAStic dance works’ production of Intrigue, a mystery on marley…, the audience hears a blood-curdling scream and sees a man in a chalk outline on the ground. If that doesn’t fill you with a series of questions you want answered through a hybrid of ballet and jazz dance, I don’t know what will. This fifty-five minute work would be daunting for a cast of professional dancers with a seasoned choreographer at the helm, so my hat is off to this relatively young choreographer with a cast of varying skill levels and performance experience.
Stiegelbauer’s concept is wonderfully strong, and allows for really interesting moments that rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The series of interviews Jimmy Wencel’s Detective conducts are told through solos by the female characters: the Girlfriend, the Mistress, the Wife, and the Secretary, performed by Bess Badger, Hannah Hampton, Andrea Nealon Misener, and Stiegelbauer herself, as well as duet moments with Dwight L. Trice, Jr.’s Victim. Trice, Jr.’s performance is one of the main things that grounds the work. While his performance isn’t flashy or overtly dynamic, he provides a strength and confident presence that allow his character to provide a through line for the show. Wencel’s Detective is a steady presence onstage, but the moments when he is the most engaging to watch are when he is watching other characters dance, as opposed to when he himself is dancing.
The women, with the exception of Stiegelbauer, have various levels of training and performance expertise, so the transition from character based movement into athletic choreography is a bit choppy, to say the least. There is little to no motivation for most of them to begin their movement sequences, except for the fact that they were told to start dancing at a certain point in the music. The most important element in a dance theatre piece, in my opinion, is to show a clear transition from character-based gestures into the choreography itself. Most of the gestures that are used to distinguish each character are lost halfway through each solo, so it was hard to remember which character you were watching perform. The aforementioned comments about the female performers apply to all of the women in the cast, with the exception of Stiegelbauer herself. She stood out in her performance, if for no other reason than you can tell that she choreographed the movement of the piece. It flows in her body in a way that is lacking in the other dancers. There is an effortless nature to her performance and a consistency of character that are spot on. Her performance is a saving grace for the production.
With more experience and exposure to different dance styles and other choreographers’ ways of working, Stiegelbauer could revisit this piece and strengthen it. The structure of the piece, as a series of vignettes, showcases her inexperience as a choreographer of a full-length work. The biggest pitfall of composing vignettes with separate tracks of music is not having truly solid endings for each vignette and not having clear transitions from one vignette to the next. Each solo/duet hybrid ended with the musical track that accompanied it. There seemed to be no other reason for the piece to end than that the music was coming to a close. This created a lack of closure for the movement story of each character and inhibited a flow from one to the other. The transitions into each vignette were almost identical, with the next character entering in silence, the music track beginning, etc. I will, however, applaud Stiegelbauer’s ability to create and compose movement, because there were very few movement themes repeated in the piece, so she has a lot of choreography densely packed into this fifty-five minute piece.
Kudos to the choreographer and cast of Intrigue, a mystery on marley… for displaying their artistry and presenting a creative experience for their audience. If you are in the mood to see a wide-range of performance abilities showcased by a choreographer with big ideas, check out this performance.
Intrigue, a mystery on marley… runs through July 27, 2014 at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre -at 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For more information, or to purchase tickets, check their Capital Fringe Page.