Saturday, September 26, 2020

"The Cafe" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company Outdoors at Gremlin Theatre

Since 2013, Collide Theatrical Dance Company has been creating original dance musicals that really blur the line between dance, theater, and music (their name refers to a collision of art forms). Most of their shows tell a story strictly through dance and music (typically pop songs performed live), with little or no dialogue. In February they remounted their adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which I didn't see because I had seen the original in 2014 and I was so busy with #TCTheater that I couldn't fit it in (can you even imagine?!). But in the last 6+ months my life has become the complete opposite of that, so my schedule was happily free and clear to see their new production, being performed outdoors for a limited time only. In fact only one performance remains, tonight, and can be viewed in person or virtually. I saw it in person last night and was smiling under my mask for 60 minutes! Click here for all of the details of how you can take in this delightful dance show.

Unlike their usual shows, The Café doesn't tell a single narrative, but rather a series of vignettes about relationships that take place at a café, natch. Some stories are happy, some are sad, some are awkward, some are angry, all beautifully expressed through dance. No live music (which I give them a pass on because singing has become a high-risk activity), they dance to recorded tracks of pop music, often different and interesting covers of familiar songs. The eight dancers (Betsy Nelson, Chelsea Rose, Heather Brockman, Jarod Boltjes, Patrick Jeffrey, Regina Peluso, Renee Guittar, and Rush Benson, all company members) perform solo, in pairs, or group numbers. Choreographed by the company, the show is very lively, energetic, impressive, and infectious, hence the constant under-mask smile.

photo by Sarah Bauer
Even though this show is performed in the parking lot outside of Gremlin Theatre, the production values are still high. With a 7:30 pm showtime in late September, the darkness was upon us quickly, but the bright spotlights, as well as festive strings of lights, made that no problem (lighting designed by Gremlin's resident technical director Carl Schoenborn). The performance area was clearly marked off, with chairs spaced 6+ feet apart on three sides around it. Even the dancers don't get too close, other than a darling masked and gloved partner dance, and real-life partners Renee and Rush. Café tables at the back of the performance space are covered in glittery gold tablecloths, and props (particularly coffee cups) are used charmingly. The women are dressed in sparkly '20s style dresses and the men in smart shirts and trousers, all wearing sensible black flats because I imagine dancing on asphalt is not good for the feet or the body.

As much as I appreciate the virtual theater events happening around town, or rather, around the internet, I'm beginning to get a little weary of it, because it just doesn't satisfy my theater craving. Which is why I appreciate so much companies like Collide getting creative in bringing artists and audiences together safely. The Café is that entertaining and engaging live performance that I've been missing. The magic of live performance simply cannot be matched, as was felt by dancers and audience alike, together in a parking lot that felt like the grandest theater space.