While only established in 2013, the AJnC Dance-Theater is making a formidable imprint on the Seattle dance scene. Amy J Lambert, the company’s founder and artistic director, creates works that masterfully blend the beautiful physicality of dance and the playful absurdity of theater. In her most recent work, Young Manic: I Wanted to be on Broadway, Lambert dexterously achieves this balance by incorporating well-executed modern dancing with over-the-top acting. The text, created in collaboration between Lambert and the dancers, poses poignant social commentary about unrealized Broadway dreams and the inanties of the theater world.
The audience first glimpses into this absurd world in the playful back-and-forth between Taryn Collis and Joshua Williamson as they clumsily rehearse their own Broadway-inspired dance. Collis has a grand vision for their piece: she wants to create a “spectacle,” one where the dancers fly onto the stage and land in a swan pond. The two dancers realize that they don’t have the wherewithal to accomplish this vision. Instead, they settle on one idea of dressing up as bears and performing choreography that includes steps like the “Paula Abdul,” the “warm it up, cool it down,” the “horse” trot, and the quintessential b-boy move. They pepper their choreography with perfectly timed comedic commentary, including one of the most memorable lines from the show: “That’s meta. That’s dance.”
Before Collis and Williamson’s piece comes together, Lambert intersperses the show with vignettes of dashed dreams and the realities of the theater world. Ten female dancers take the stage multiple times to perform showgirl-like routines filled with high kicks, leaps, and a nod to Cunningham in the form of bobbing bows instead of the iconic Rockette kick-line big finish. The showgirls perform with intense conviction, but eventually their smiles transform more and more into plastered grins. In one especially hard-hitting section, one showgirl receives a phone call from a talent agency. Another showgirl asks how the call went. She replies that she didn’t get the role because she was too tall. “You had another one, right?” her friend asks. The showgirl perks up, but then realizes that she wasn’t right for that role either. There is always something holding her back—she’s either too short, too nice, too weird, or her schedule doesn’t work.
Lambert’s choreography, in combination with the performer’s collaborative text, speak to the idiosyncrasies of Broadway. They comment on several of the facets of theater life, including the notion of conformity. Ivana Lin performs a one-handed cartwheel which causes one of the other dancers to object—cartwheels can only be done with both, or no hands, she claims. Calling in a squadron of reinforcements, they throw Lin into a two-handed cartwheel. The swarm of dancers argue incessantly about how to perform the perfect cartwheel and soon Lin escapes threw her captor’s legs. At other moments, Lambert pokes fun at the power-hungry theater environment. One performer, Charmaine Butcher, enters a large spotlight and sings “Think of Me” from the musical, Phantom of the Opera. Williamson interjects and pushes his way in front of Butcher. Butcher inches closer to the audience to make her way back in front, before another dancer, Danica Bito, jumps into the spotlight with her own rendition of a song from Les Miserables. All three performers fight their way to the front, simultaneously creating a cacophony of overlapping falsetto opera voices.
When Collis and Williamson return to the stage to perform their fully choreographed grand finale, Collis wears a bear onesie and Williamson a cardboard cut-out of a bear head. Collis suffers an existential crisis because she wonders whether all the hard work of creating a dance will pay off. When she asks Williamson what good dance can do, he replies in one of the only serious moments of the entire show, that dance might not change the world, but it has changed his life. With this renewed vigor, they perform the final piece helped by bright stage lights, a red proscenium set, a whole lineup of showgirls, and a Gloria Estefan song to accompany them. These dancers might not have made it to Broadway, but they sure know how to deliver a clever and lighthearted show.