Doug Elkins: Hapless Bizarre | Sarah Carlson (March 2014)

Doug Elkins: Hapless Bizarre
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Williams Center for the Arts

By Sarah Carlson


Doug Elkins has been making dance for his NY based company for over 20 years. During that time, I have come to admire his talent for mashing up genres to create intriguing hybrids. In recent years, he has engaged a more theatrical approach to great critical acclaim. Elkins’ newest work continues in this vein and did not disappoint the brave souls who ventured out to enjoy his performance at The Williams Center this past rainy Wednesday night.

Fresh off its Feburary premiere, Hapless Bizarre anchored the first half of the program. The piece opens with a small man kicking a hat he can’t pick up. He is dressed in black and white with thick, dark rimmed glasses. His comedic predicament clearly references a Chaplin-like innocence. In no time, a tall slinky brunette struts in to school him in the ways of the world.  Strikingly costumed in swirling gray patterns, she is sultry to his square. Soon she is joined by two other couples who strut & weave flirtatious patterns that engulf the young buck. Lounge music gives way to Pink Martini and a fittingly hot pink couple dance acrobatically in sync with impressive ease. Colorful curvy geometrics projected behind the dancers hint at a drug induced hallucination. Couples interplay in and out of ever more complex connections. The piece never lets go of its jovial feel as eventually the square loosens up.  Unlike other Elkins works I’ve seen, Hapless Bizarre falls a bit flat. Perhaps it was a lack of energy from the half full audience, but despite the polished performances from the cast, something felt forced about this work.

Alternatively, Mo(or)town/Redux is vivacious, edgy, and reverberated heartily into the imagination of the audience. Mo(or)town is Elkins’ modern remake of Jose Limon’s classic, The Moor’s Pavane. Both pieces summarize the tragic plot of love & betrayal in Shakespeare’s Othello. Elkins chooses the sultry sounds of Motown to support his action and song after song, we are swept up in wonder at how perfectly the music fits. Right away, Elkin’s cast dives into sinewous partnering, so smooth the audience is hardly aware of its complexity. Othello & Desdemona sport light colored formalwear while their foils, Iago & Emilia, don a darker palette.
Iago’s black jeans & slick hair reference the 50s “greaser” with all of its darker implications. In the course of the action, Othello & Iago (danced by Alexander Dones and Kyle Marshall) share a sizzling duet to James Brown’s Super Bad. Punctuated isolations dip into and out of the floor intermixed with super sharp footwork that serves to heighten the tension between them.  The iconic voices of Stevie Wonder & Marvin Gaye (among others) undergird the unfolding action, the tragic outcome of which seems as inevitable as the resolutions of the songs themselves.
In this work, Elkins shows himself once again to be a master mixologist. Clever combinations of movement, music & story muddle the boundaries of high & low art but are so seamless, they make us forget just how combustible they are.