Sunday, March 26, 2023

"SKOL!" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Southern Theater

For their latest original jazz dance musical, Collide Theatrical Dance Company took inspiration from a recent scholarly finding that a 1878 archeological find that was believed to be the body of a Viking warrior is in fact female remains. There is other evidence to support the existence of female Viking warriors, which you can read about here and I'm sure other scholarly sources. Or you can go see SKOL!, which is less historically accurate than it is an imaging of a strong female leader in the Viking culture and its reflections in today's world. For the first time since the pandemic, Collide is returning to live music accompanying the dancing (their last few shows have used recorded music), and for the first time in their history, they're using original music written for this story instead of covers of pop songs. It's an ambitious task, and after 10 years of creating original dance pieces, they're up for it. If you're someone who things dancing warriors is silly, this might not be the show for you. But if you see dance/music/theater as a way to express heightened emotions, the kind that are very much presence in war, love, and family drama, head to the Southern Theater in the next two weeks to see this fun collision of dance, music, and theater to tell a story of female power.

Since there is very little spoken dialogue, the plot is summarized in the program. While exact plot points might not always be clear in the performance, the emotions and relationships are. This story imagines two Viking brothers - Ragnar (Jarod Boltjes) and Harald (Ben Siglin). The former is the leader of the Vikings, the latter converts to Christianity and becomes King of England, pitting the two brothers against each other. There's also a bit of a doomed love triangle, with Harald abandoning his daughter to be raised by Ragnar as his successor. Lagertha (Renee Guittar) follows her father into battle, the goal of which is to procure medication to treat the mysterious illness plaguing the Vikings. When Ragnar falters, Lagertha takes control, but victory is bittersweet.

Some narration is provided by the original score, composed by Music Director Mike Michel, who leads the three-piece band, with lyrics by Rush Benson and arrangements by Katie Gearty. Rush, as Odin god of war, and Katie, as Freya goddess of love and death, provide vocals for some of the songs that help tell the story. They're on the sides of the stage, always observing, and sometimes interfering, as gods do. In addition, Ben Siglin as Harald also sings some of the songs. It could feel a bit odd that only one of the dancers sings, or has any voice at all, but it works because Ben's voice is so great and some of their songs are the most fun, with some King George III vibes. The modern rock score has some moments of pop/Broadway/hip hop, and most importantly is a perfect accompaniment to the dancing and storytelling.

photo by Loco/FX Photography
Creator / director / choreographer Regina Peluso and assistant director / choreographer Heather Brockman keep the story moving at a brisk pace, flowing from scene to scene, with unique, interesting, and thrilling choreography for each phase of the story (additional choreography by Rush Benson, Renee Guittar, and Kyle Weiler). The large ensemble of nearly 20 dancers performs the choreography with precision and passion, making us believe these warriors are fighting for their lives, and having fun when they can. Renee is a wonderful lead as Lagertha, strong and powerful, yet vulnerable and empathetic as Lagertha experiences the ups and downs of being the leader. 

The dancers are dressed in a sort of modern Viking chic, with lots of leather and fur, evocative of the period yet still fun and allowing movement (costumes designed by Regina Peluso). The Southern is such a gorgeous space, with a stunning historic arch and brick walls, that not much additional set dressing is needed - just a couple of curtains and drapes, some period furniture, and one impressive wooden Viking ship that is pushed around the space as if it were gliding across the water. The Vikings dance/fight with spears, axes, and beautifully painted shields (set design by Robin McIntyre).

They may be trying to appeal to fans of a certain football team with the title SKOL! and the slogan "It's Game Time," but I wouldn't know anything about that, and fortunately there's no hint of it within the show itself. It would be a great 90-minute no intermission show, but for once I'll allow the intermission because these performers are dancing their hearts out and deserve to take a break, even if the audience doesn't need one. Collide always brings a theatricality and focus on storytelling that even a dance novice like myself can appreciate. Now they've stepped up their game by adding original music, an exciting and successful development.

SKOL! continues through April 9, and will be available for virtual viewing after that (click here for all the details).