Hip Shot: Flight of Fancy (A Steampunk Ballet)
GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Saturday, July 21st, 11 p.m.
Thursday, July 26th, 6 p.m.
They say: "Flight of Fancy is a theatrical, indie-rock ballet inspired by the 'Steampunk' movement of discovery and possibility during Victorian times. The Aviator arrives as a harbinger of innovation, creating a social movement of self-expression and creativity amongst characters she meets."
Rebecca's Take: Only at the Fringe Festival could prancing around in satin corsets and balancing on toe shoes be cast as a liberating adventure. Within the dance world, that concept would be laughed out of town. But the spunky ladies of MOVEius Dance are out to be perceived as anachronistic mavericks, and so they're debuting at the festival with Flight of Fancy (A Steampunk Ballet).
If you've heard of it, that's because it may be the most over-hyped show in all of Fringe.
Savvy marketers have successfully promoted Flight of Fancy as if it's hipster catnip. Steampunk! Like those people who dress up in tweed and ride bicycles. Indie rock music! Like with songs by Arcade Fire and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros and Spoon. Ballet! Like in Black Swan and Breaking Pointe and Bunheads.
But at risk of sounding like the biggest spoilsport in all of Fringe, much of the "ballet"Ã in this steampunk ballet is pretty bad. And if you've been to (or danced in) a Nutcracker or two, you'll notice. The fakery starts as soon as Katya Vasilaky, the company's artistic director, steps out of a pretend hot air balloon basket and starts preening. She juts out her hips and alternately stretches out her legs like Siamese cat. Vasilaky is wearing pointe shoes, the traditional ballet footwear with a hardened box around the ball of the foot that allows dancers to go up on their toes, balancing all their weight on a surface not much bigger than a quarter.
What's the problem? With the exception of a few easy turns, Vasilaky never dances on her toes. She's just wearing point shoes for show, which is like walking around a pool in flippers but never getting in the water. It's silly, and it limits both the ballet's choreography and her character.
According to the four pages of in-need-of-an-editor program notes, Vasilaky is playing The Aviator, an Amelia Earhart type who happens upon a vast society stifled by social structures and expectations which sounds more like a self-help group than a ballet. As so often seems to happen in D.C., a local dance company has come up with a crackerjack concept and loaded it with hubris. The program notes say that "as the aviator interacts with the people of this new world, she inspires them and shows them the power of creativity."
What a great scene it would be if we actually saw Vasilaky's character inspire the women of the corps by teaching them how to dance. But she rarely appears onstage with them, possibly because "the people of this new world" dance better on pointe than she does. The group of 10 women is initially clothed in black shirt dresses and are either barefoot or wearing simple slippers. In a series of vignettes with no logical connections, some of them change into pointe shoes and don adorable costumes you might find in a great-grandmother's well preserved closet. (Think pink pantaloons, corsets, and lots and lots of ruffles and pearls.)
The choreography is by Kathleen Howard, who also performs and is the best dancer onstage. Unfortunately, much of the movement she designed, which has rich storytelling potential, amounts to free-spirited skipping around in circles.
What saves Flight of Fancy from a Hindenburg-esque flame out is the obvious joy of the young women in the corps. Many girls dance as kids, but few continue to into adulthood, and even fewer continue on pointe. Jamming those shoes on hurts, and it takes a toll on a body. After Saturday's opening, many dancers received roses in GALA's lobby. They deserved the bouquets. They also deserved a better show.
See It If: You like a little frothy swirling with your costume dramas.
Skip It If: You like a little more substance with your ballet.