On Stage: Life As We Know It…Not

 

(Click on the circles for a slideshow.)

Choreographer Andre Koslowski has always seemed to take great pleasure in teasing us. Images from his life, and those who mean the most to him, pepper his dance works, sometimes just rubbing elbows in a casual way, at other times each piercing the audience in their own right.

The images are crafted in such a way that they must be taken seriously. But, as it turns out, often they are not.

The scales definitely tipped that way in Andre’s latest Pennsylvania Dance Theatre production at the company’s home base in State College. His very dry sense of humor blossomed in another direction.

Presented at the State Theatre in conjunction with the sprawling, but meaty Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the program consisted of one repertory piece, a solo called Guided Tour, that Claire Porter designed for Andre in 2012, and a company premiere, Wiegenlied (Lullaby). So Andre began the program alone, as a museum docent who literally got swept up in his job.

“Ladies and gentlemen, walk this way.”

We’ve virtually all heard those words, but they merely became a jumping off point for Claire’s imagination.

Overall this encore set a different tone than it had in the premiere. The voice and the gestures had a greater sweep from the start and escalated from there, drawing the audience in immediately with the physical humor of it all. Buster Keaton, perhaps?

But the heart of the solo lay in the text. “I know you are trying, but try harder.” “…a re-enactment diorama of another diorama.” Gradually our docent became more frustrated with his invisible group. His sneakers squeaked louder as his voice rose. His movements became more agitated.

Art imitating life imitating art. So outrageously funny.

Things continued in that vein with Wiegenlied, although it took a few minutes to get in sync. We heard haunting strains of a guitar. The lights came up on an arrangement of bare trees surrounded by garbage (Susana Amundarain’s daring design). A usually docile Jennifer Keller lifted her hair and, summoning her most commanding voice, pronounced, “Good ev-e-ning.” Then she walked offstage. No, made one heckuva exit.

Even though the opening moments were seemingly incoherent, it all began to make sense.

These odd relationships would continue, but the audience “got” it.  Andre sauntered to the forefront, dressed in shorts and high heels. He looked great. He was also using a leaf blower.

Later, a pointing finger became a woodpecker. And Andre had a fashion show, enhanced by Naoko Nagata’s costume design. There was a man with an umbrella (composer Efrain Amaya), who slowly began to slide forward from a corner at the back — he was wearing skis. He sang a song with his guitar, ever so slightly out of tune.

These were life scenes, translated to movement and even more out of tune with reality. Long-time company member Tina Kondrath had some of her best career  moments and Jennifer and Andre concluded with complex and seemingly more serious solos, although there could have been a more incisive ending.

Wiegenlied turned out to be a heightened sensory and visual experience, even more so when we realized that our lives would be just as off-kilter if we put ourselves in Andre’s hands.

 

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