A duo moves across the floor improvising with a chair and a serving tray. On the opposite side of the room is a trio similarly working with a tea kettle and cup. At the end of each phrase the first group looks center and says, “Danke” while the later turns to reply “Bitte”. This is repeated until the moving tea service lands on a set table, while a female singer begins to hum and play the accordion. Add in circus-esque black and white striped walls where vintage film clips play, poetry and a disjointed soundtrack that includes the dancers’ own soundscapes and Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (or Mack the Knife) and you have entered the surreal world of Expressionist/Dadaist art in pre-World War II Berlin. In particular, you’ve entered the world and work of dancer/film and cabaret artist/model and self-proclaimed artistic genius Valeska Gert, who is the inspiration for the upcoming performance of Striding Lion Performance Group‘s Dada Gert.
The group’s artistic director Annie Arnoult Beserra learned of Gert’s work (*short video below) while in grad school and has been intrigued ever since. “What drew me to her was her absolutely seamless integration of dance and theater,” Berserra said, “and she has a voracious, raw, aggressive energy.” Gert definitely pushed the boundaries of what was happening in her day by utilizing pieces of the Dada movement (although according to Beserra, she did not consider herself a Dadaist) and the influence of Bertolt Brecht to create her own unique artistic voice in the Weimar Era. Gert is perhaps an obscure choice to create an hour-length work about, but in this case – and with this cast that is fully committed – it works. The six dancers and one singer literally throw themselves into this crazy world of twitches, snorts, funny faces and lyric. Jeff Hancock (who also did the installation and costume design) leads the others in a puppet-like defense of Dada, while Beserra becomes Gert by perfecting and replicating the unusual faces and energy that made her famous in her day. One particularly impressive section has Beserra pulling these “faces” simulating normal/”Valeska”, “horrified”, “tough guy”, “bright idea” and “fat face” over and over with increasing speed while the singer and accordion play on.
I stopped by rehearsal yesterday, so I haven’t seen it run in the theater with production values, but from what I saw, this will be a uniquely entertaining, multi-media piece of historical dance theater.
Striding Lion Performance Group presents Dada Gert at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater, 3035 N. Hoyne, Thursday-Friday, May 23-24 and Thursday-Friday, May 30-31 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20 ($10 students and seniors) – half price rush tickets will also be available. Call 773.769.7540 or visit brownpapertickets.com/event/345021.