Off Off Broadway, Dance, Fringe Festival, Entertainment, New York City, Burlesque

DIAGHILESQUE!

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Directed and choreographed by Arrie Davidson
Produced by KineticArchitecture Dance Theatre
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival

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Off Off Broadway, Dance
Runs through 8.29.15 (9.45pm)
VENUE #7: The Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street

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BOTTOM LINE: Beautiful, intelligent display of re-worked ballets through the lens of burlesque and queer storytelling.

Reviewers have called the work of KineticArchitecture—spearheaded by Arrie Davidson—burlesque meets dance meets acrobatics, and DIAGHILESQUE! certainly fits the bill. Davidson also plays a central role in the performance, as both soloist and commentator who takes the audience through Sergei Diaghilev's complete works with her all-women company in just under an hour. I am reminded of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged): a lot of information is packed into a short amount of time, and the highlights are hit fast and hard with humor, wit, and personality.

Davidson’s role is sometimes ill-defined, as she slips back and forth between flamboyant commentary and quiet, autobiographical storytelling; her presentation oscillates between that of an emcee and that of a confessional poet at a reading. That said, the juxtaposition of personal narrative interwoven with history is productive, and for that matter touching to watch (though you should sit in the front rows to make sure you can hear her). I also wondered why, since this piece was clearly intervening in the ballerina’s silence onstage, only two members of the company spoke (Davidson and Dara Swisher, who it seemed did so when Davidson had a costume change during a transition).

As they made their way through Diaghilev's repertoire, from The Rite of Spring to The Spirit of the Rose, my favorite moment happened during Scheherazade. Six dancers in translucent sparkling shifts evoked beautiful suggestions of violence, to reference the marriage that forms the narrative center of the ballet. One move in particular caught my breath: framing their heads with their hands, the dancers jerked their hands suddenly in a gesture as if breaking their own necks. This moment could embody the work as a whole: DIAGHILESQUE!is at once a celebration of a beautiful oeuvre from a brilliant artist, as well as a clear and renewed display of the beautification of brutality which has been laced throughout ballet’s history. 

Granted, burlesque, nudity, and a performed history of the Ballets Russes might seem like a niche show, but I seriously hope you see it. It is not for the faint of heart: most parents will find this unsuitable for children. But I cannot remember a more engaging blend of elite and kitsch, fun and heartbreaking, artful and entertaining. DIAGHILESQUE!  is ideal for anyone who wishes to expand their typical conceptions of what “theatre” is, and who would like to be both titillated and inspired.

(DIAGHILESQUE! plays at VENUE #7: The Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, through August 29, 2015. Performances are Sat 8/15 at 5:45; Wed 8/19 at 8:45; Sat 8/22 at 9:45; Fri 8/28 at 5; and Sat 8/29 at 9:45. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit kadancetheatre.org)