Redd Legg Dance’s Music You Shouldn’t Choreograph To Is All Wrong for the Right Reasons

Written by Steve Ha

Edited by Mariko Nagashima

Redd Legg Dance company members and puppet in Unrequited.
Photo by David Legg.

This weekend at the Erickson Theater, Redd Legg Dance presents Music You Shouldn’t Choreograph To, a show where artistic director Kristen Legg’s central theme was to dance (as the title would suggest) to music that would never be taken seriously in a dance performance.  Ironically, even the genre of modern dance, which so champions creativity and the unconventional, still has institutionalized standards to be accepted as performance art—but not this time. All limitations and expectations are thrown out the window and credence is given to everything from pieces with technique and familiarity to the downright absurd, as Legg invites Seattle-based artists to create new work on her company.  Playfully bending the rules in every way possible, Music You Shouldn’t Choreograph To can leave one quite perplexed, but serves its purpose in reminding the audience that art comes in all flavors, and as long as it evokes something or raises questions, it has achieved exactly what it needs to.

Kicking off the show was the simple but pleasant Walking Among Them, a piece by Legg to Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet child o’ Mine. Featuring four dancers in colorful pedestrian clothes emerging from a larger group of people in shades of gray, it alluded to the ever constant struggle to express one’s identity in a society that demands professionalism.  Though the main quartet seemed a little tentative at times, the piece maintained a sense of calm and ease through its modern jazz choreography. 
In contrast, Marlo Martin’s dancing in the basement was subdued, with a group of dancers illuminated by blue light, dancing as ghostly apparitions to a nocturne of an acoustic version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and a piano arrangement of U2’s With or Without You.  The piece had a wonderfully unified mood, with an air of somberness and emotional turmoil without being overwrought with angst.  Martin’s choreography has impeccable timing, paced to breathe gently or draw attention to an individual dancer in a more intense moment; she manages to find poetry in even the smallest of gestures.
Anne Motl’s contribution to the evening was an adventure back in time to denim jackets and taffeta prom dresses, appropriately set to a medley of Bon Jovi hits.  Whether considered to highlight the best or worst of the 1980’s, Motl’s Just As Close was like a perfect rendition of teenage love—colorful, tumultuous, and sometimes illogical, but complete with such conviction that one can only surrender to it.  When one dancer laid down on a red satin blanket and had handfuls of rose petals strewn upon him, the visual was an amusing reminder that what teenagers insist to be epic, adults know better as melodrama (thereby forcing us to admit that we only know because we’ve all been there).
Unrequited, another by Legg, touched on similar ideas in three duets, though it solved the problem of the ever-present lack of male dancers by having the women dance with puppets.  In three tales of relationships to hits like Nothing Compares 2 U and Total Eclipse of the Heart, each maiden must negotiate with her diminutive love interest, who displayed some of the most unusual dancing skills and unbelievable body lines.  If nothing else, Unrequited informed us that if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes three women to make him dance.
Changing gears, David Lorence Schleiffers’s work About Face offered something surprisingly aloof but not for lack of design. The score was a highly original mix of pop ballads, Mozart, and background noise one might hear in an auditorium while musicians warm up before a performance. Though four dancers were outfitted in tutus and toe shoes, the original purpose of such articles was completely ignored as the dancers never rose up to pointe and the tutus were sometimes worn over the shoulder or around the head.  The movements seemed almost perfunctory at times, but it was that very quality that solidified the piece in a thought-provoking way.
 About Face could not have been further from the last piece, Legg’s Second String Superheroes.  Like an audition by a rag-tag group of rejected comic book characters, a group of well-meaning but questionable superheroes introduced themselves and their abilities in hybrid dance-theater solos, accompanied by a musical selection that one must hear to believe.  In a call to action, the “fab five” burst into a high powered unison dance to none other than Holding Out For a Hero, and were joined by a cast of characters plucked right out of the 80’s, including a guest appearance by the Queen of England herself.  When the disco ball descended in resplendent wonder, the pinnacle of tomfoolery was achieved.
Music You Shouldn’t Choreograph To continues Sunday, May 22, with a matinee and evening performance at 2 and 8 PM respectively.  Tickets can be purchased at the door or via Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/171748. For more information on Redd Legg Dance, please visit: http://www.reddleggdance.org/