Friday, March 6, 2015

"Zoot Suit Riots" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Lab Theater

Collide Theatrical Dance Company is a bit of a step out of my comfort zone as a theater blogger. But I do love to watch dance, and Collide (named for the collision of various art forms, including dance, theater, and music) allows this theater geek to get a dance fix in the form of storytelling, which is what theater is all about. Their latest original jazz-dance musical creation is Zoot Suit Riots, based on the historical riots in 1943 Los Angeles that spread to other parts of the country. This version of the riots takes place in Harlem in a dance hall similar to the historic Savoy Ballroom, and while the story may be a bit thin, the dancing is spectacular and does a wonderful job of expressing emotions and defining characters.

Let's start with the music. The five-piece band, directed by Bob Beahen on percussion and also including keyboard, upright bass, guitar, and my favorite jazz instrument the clarinet, sounds super smooth and cool and jazzy. The song selections are mostly standards from the era like "Moondance" and "You Can't Take That Away from Me," with a little Queen and Lady Gaga thrown in for good measure. Singing these songs are two amazing vocalists, Katie Carney and Ben Bakken (did someone say Queen?), solo and duet. The choice of music is, as always, spot on, and it's fun to hear modern pop music played and sung in the '40s jazz style.

the company and the band (photo by V. Paul V.)
Hand in hand with the music is the dancing, which is awe-inspiring to this non-dancing theater geek. Directer/ choreographer/creator of the piece Regina Peluso combines various styles of dance (jazz, ballet, tap, Fosse, contemporary) to create something unique and so much fun to watch. Whether solo dances or group numbers, the dances perfectly suit the music which perfectly suits the moment in the story. In fact, the dancing is so expressive and tells the story so well that I wish they would eliminate the short scenes with dialogue, which are a bit stilted. These dancers are better actors when they're dancing; when they're dancing I know who they are and I believe them. Some of Collide's earlier pieces had no dialogue and told the story entirely through music and movement (with a short story summary in the program), and were the stronger for it.

Galen Higgins flies high (photo by V. Paul V.)
The ten dancers in the company are all beautiful, graceful, strong dancers (including familiar faces Renee Guittar, Riley Thomas Weber, and Jeffrey Robinson in the lead roles), but the standout in this show is Galen Higgins as a hard-nosed, fierce-tapping Marine. His tap dance (which he also choreographed) is huge and fast and explosive. Lastly, there's no costumer listed in the credits, but I'm always amazed how the dancers can move so well in what look like street clothes, and look stylish while doing so.

Zoot Suit Riots officially opens tonight and continues through March 15 at the gorgeous Lab Theater, a great space for dance. (Discount tickets available on Goldstar.)

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