Although Mid America Dance Company's vast repertory certainly contains serious dances, I'd say that most of us go to a Madco concert with our faces fixed to laugh. And we were certainly motivated to do so last weekend, when Madco presented its holiday show for 1998. It took a couple of numbers for a significant portion of Saturday evening's audience to catch on. These were the relatives of the young student dancers from Arts in Motion, who quite reasonably figured that the best they could expect from a bevy of girls (some of them quite little, others definitely not) was prettiness.
What they didn't know, of course, is that prim Stacy West and austere Abigail Wurf, by day supportive dance teachers of the youth of America, are by night members of the most subversive, habitually rude and, on occasion, monumentally crude dance troupe in the area. The curtain-raiser, "Unfettered Pastimes," choreographed by Madco co-founder Alcine Wiltz to some bouncy, ragtimey William Bolcum, was lighthearted leaping and bounding with all seven Madco dancers, beautifully in sync, moving lightly over the Grandel Theatre's small stage. But what about Rob Scoggins' 1976 "But Seriously," set to Wayne King's "Dream, Dream, Dream" waltz? It has some super-soupy narration that seemed to conflict with what Todd Weeks and Stacy West were doing -- a sort of anti-waltz, lots of it on the floor or with West upside down, or with Weeks held at a 45-degree angle over West. But the audience caught on: first a snicker, then a giggle and, finally, belly laughter.
The apex of the rudeness, crudity and even bad taste was an episode from "A Madsummer Night's Dream -- I" (Ross Winter's 1993 version) called "Janitorial," a dance tribute to the four-legged aluminum walker. Joey Neal, who delivers superb mock delicacy, began the goofiness; then four more Madco folk showed up to do the damnedest things with walkers -- undoubtedly acquired in a raid on a nursing home. People would really have been offended if they hadn't been laughing so hard.
The highlight of the rather short evening (just a bit over an hour, with no intermission) was three excerpts from Paul Mosley's 1987 "Canon Studies," set to three of J.S. Bach's two-part inventions. The company were costumed as ur-nerds -- bad plaid trousers at high-water length, hideous argyle socks, bow ties, spectacles mended with adhesive tape. The first section had the entire company tramping about in hilarious melancholy; the third was the other six against Kate Benkert Meacham (who's getting too good at Madco madness -- she'd better watch out, or she's going to end up as weird as the rest of them) in a game of "Dead Bug." In between was one of the funniest short dance pieces I know, wherein Stacy West tries to show Todd Weeks, trousers suspendered up to the breastbone, how to move gracefully to the E-major invention. Weeks occasionally gets the message, but most often he's either actively passive-aggressive or off in a wild dance world of his own, with facial expressions ranging from "chicken in labor" to "there is not nor has there ever been a Santa Claus."
Those for whom it wouldn't be the holidays without some "Madcracker" and a bit of "Madsummer Night's Dream -- II" did not leave disappointed, and the relatives of the dance students had the opportunity to watch their young women move gracefully. The only thing the matter with Madco's An Evening on the Lighter Side was its short, two-performance run. Holiday performance-art offerings need more of Mid America Dance Company's lemon juice to temper all the sweetness.
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