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Sideshow: Dance-theatre That Will Charm Your Socks Off

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy
Photo by Truman Buffett
Annex Theater’s Off-Night series presents Sideshow, May 1–16, 2012, created and directed by Jenna Bean Veatch. A whimsical mix of dance, theater, and live music, Sideshow tells the story of The Hunchback Girl, her journey to the circus, and the eclectic cast of characters she meets along the way: The Bearded Lady, Daffodil the Jaundiced Girl, and The Tree Man.This performance is a fun nod to depression-era aesthetics and a wonderful production for children and grown-ups alike.
For her first evening-length show, Veatch has carefully crafted all of the characters, their cartoonishness creating a larger-than-life dream world. Naomi Russell, as The Hunchback Girl, used facial expressions beautifully to convey the shy and nervous protagonist as she attempts different circus acts, trying to find her own special talent. The story plays out like a children’s bedtime tale, but with plenty to offer for adults. Francesca Mondelli and Jillian Vashro are brilliant as the perfect-at-everything conjoined twins, whose harmonized rendition of “I Wish I was a Single Girl Again” was as hilarious as it was charming, each woman playing one hand of a toy piano. Other delightful moments included unexpected surprises in stagecraft, whether it was a little magic trick or a well-timed sound cue. Equally captivating were the costumes, sets, lights, and music, which referenced a depression-era setting and were all used effectively to advance the plotline.
As can be an issue in narrative dance, occasionally there was too much reliance on pantomime and silent play-acting, which felt a little stale. An original dirge written and performed by Veatch told the story of the Jaundiced Girl (whom she also played) and, while this was a clever way to give back story, the repetitive song lasted too long, and seemingly could have said its piece in half the time. The dance duet accompanying this piece of music was also a rhythmic monotone, and felt like filler material with no intrinsic purpose. There were a few moments of effective dancing—an acrobatic solo, performed by Wylin Daigle as The Bearded Lady, did a wonderful job introducing the audience to her character. A group dance number helped convey the wild, overwhelming, and seductive nature of the circus, creating the suspension of disbelief necessary for the Annex’s small stage to become The Big Top. The best dancing in the show, however, is in the characterization, facial expression, and posture of the performers.
Sideshow is simple, sweet, and folksy. At times it has a very “community theater” type feel, for which it is unapologetic. The low-production value seems to reference a by-gone era of the stage, and only makes the show more endearing. The live traditional music and the bright-eyed, fresh-faced characters reinforce the feeling of a simpler time. Aside from a few pacing issues, Sideshow is a fine example of narrative dance, and a unique perspective in the Seattledance scene.
Sideshow is playing this Tuesday and Wednesday, May 15 and 16, 2012, at the Annex Theater, at 8:00 pm. The show is 70 minutes in length. Tickets available through the Annex Theater Website.