A stylized historical rendering spruced up with overlays of contemporary subject matter, Vaudeville! hearkens back to the Gilded Age, just as its title self-explains. Danceworks’ current production, Vaudeville!, opened Friday night with little buzz, nearly selling out its first three performances to the contrary. The production spotlights a series of choreographed vignettes driven by a mix of turn of the century show tunes, cast member voice-overs, and original music. Although mostly a period piece, Vaudeville!’s costume design travels through the first quarter of the 20th century, with performance content themes advancing to the current decade.
Vaudeville! leaves ample space for odes to the silent film era. Imaginary marionette strings jostle coordinated movements of limbs, mechanically pantomiming humorous antics behind lumbering 1910 World Fair carnival music. Human flesh morbidly transforms into disposable wooden hinged playthings spurred into action, by the character positioned as the conductor of the show. The games of diversion give way to dramas of perversity and grim resignation, which supply depth to contrast the overall levity of the show.
Absurdity and spectacle contribute key aspects to the vaudeville genre. Danceworks dabbles with these expected vaudeville qualities using dance, acrobatics, kinesthetic dialog and ‘bit’ comedy as vehicles to carry the audience’s attention from vignette to vignette. The Vaudeville! production has an intentional shape provided by the genre, giving the dancers multiple dimensions in which to exist, not limited to just that of dancer. With theatrics used as much as dance, Vaudeville! almost allows you to expect verbal dialog. Quite aptly however, Vaudeville! does not betray its silent era inspiration or talent of its performers.