Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Massive's FAUST (theatre/dance review)

Two shows into their existence, Kyle Vincent Terry’s fledgling performance group The Massive present a reboot a reboot of a… Well, this could go on for quite a while. But newcomers to Goethe’s Faust need not tap their Wikipedia app to study up. Likewise, those unfamiliar with concert dance can sit back, relax, and leave any reservations at the door.

Terry brings a pedigree to his product not offered on many stages in Chicago, combining a hip hop based movement fusion developed by the now defunct Instruments of Movement (Terry was a company dancer) and the movement play format popularized by Chicago Dance Crash (Terry served as their Artistic Director for three years).

Terry first took a stab at the gold standard of German romanticism in 2008 at Stage 773’s predecessor, Theatre Building Chicago. Like the building itself, Terry’s Faust is revamped with only a few returning sections. The world is a bit more distinct, the plot and premise more complete, and the all-around experience fascinating for audiences of any genre.

Traditional theatregoers are treated to more visually satisfying storytelling, concert dance enthusiasts will have a strong narrative to latch on to, and anyone with short attention spans for anything longer than the latest YouTube sensation will have Sarah Keating Oates’s devilishly sexy moves to feast their eyes on throughout.

Following the traditional premise, Faust tells the story of a man unsatisfied with reaching the apex of achievement and intellect as he is sucked into a wager with Mephistopheles, with his soul the prize at stake. The preshow visuals set the mood before a ferocious, yet intimate opening that can’t help but suck you in. Once introduced, Nebi Berhane instantly captivates as the title character. Moving with just the right balance of power and grace, his exchanges with Oates’s Mephistopheles are packaged with a provocative display of reluctance and then consent. The first act flows smoothly to a climax (in more ways than one). In a stunning finale (which I don’t want to spoil here), Faust breaks the cycle of purity in Margaret, the pawn of his wager, who is both danced and played beautifully by Jennifer Zyrkowski. You might want to stop by the lobby bar or get some air at intermission.

This is not to insinuate that The Massive’s Faust is all sex and no substance. Far from it (though I wouldn’t slap it with a G rating either). The dilemmas stemming from sex or seduction, or the quest to “ruin” or destroy a woman’s “purity” are as relevant as ever in this production, maybe even more so than the somewhat dated or narrow conflict of “good vs. evil” or humanity vs. the divine.

As the story continues to unfold in the second act, the narrative remains intact, though the method of storytelling takes an unnecessary turn with the use of live dialogue, and a bit more acting than dance. The greatest strength of this theatrical experience is the use movement to tell a story, evoke emotion, and provide vision and insight for the audience. Terry and his stellar cast achieve this with flying colors, leaving me to question the late turn. It is not so much that the talking or crude attempts at humor don’t work, but they are no substitute for the dancing of Oates and Berhane, especially at such a crucial moment in the story. This is not to say that audiences will not find the ending more than satisfying. The entire experience will leave you chattering from the curtain call through your ride home on the brown line.

Inconsistencies aside, it is not every day that Chicagoland audiences will have the opportunity to witness legitimate storytelling through movement, let alone with Terry’s hip and modern aesthetic. A real treat is planned for the final two performances as well, as Terry will take to the stage himself as part of the cast.

It’s fair to say that this alone could be worth the price of admission.

The Massive’s Faust: A

Faust continues with performances on October 22 & 29 at 8pm and October 23 & 30 at 3pm at the newly renovated Stage 773. For tickets, call 773-327-5252, or visit boxoffice.printtixusa.com/stage773/eventcalendar

-Michael Dice, Jr.

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