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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Steam Heat: Time’s Signature

For those of us skeptical of the movement arts, who find it sticks in our throat to applaud people who can stand on one foot longer than we can, I would recommend a Steam Heat show to undercut cynicism. Not only is the ensemble gifted in multiple forms of movement, and possess some skilled choreographer/storytellers, but in any given number you will find yourself toe-tapping and wriggling along to snappy show tune beats. From their latest performance, following musical theater across history here are snippets of the finest of the fine:


Anything Goes: (Emily Glasser) An homage to the titan talent of Cole Porter, this number features no small alacrity of footwork as the feverish tap dancing breaks into leaps and splits, all the while making fox-eyes and arched brows at the audience, as though daring us to spring up and join them. The dancers also, as frequently throughout the show, forwent the customary recorded track, and provided their own lyrics with the back up of a live band. It was supremely amusing to hear the delightful downfall of polite society (memorably handed by the brass of Merman or the quicksilver drops of Foster) sung by a quintet of sweet throated cherabins. Ah, irony.


Will I: (Lena Gryaznova) Inspired by Michael’s famed choreography of the pained (and admittedly rather repetitive) Larson hit, Gryznova has transported this simple round poem to a line of chairs. As the words swell we see a line of women, nine distressed characters, try to cope with the tragedies of their lives. Some make connections, some break, some try to destroy themselves, some try to take their anger out upon others Gryanzova herself has reserved a juicy antagonist role, and it is a bitter triumph to see her hoisted by her own petard as the story progresses. Each grab and pull, stab and rent, carries passages of varying suffering. And when they burst free of their confines their desperation transfers into effortless grace. One improvement is to tone down the use of dark mood lighting, to increase visibility of flow of attention and catharsis.


Oklahoma: (Ellie Besinger) A reworking (dare I say a long overdue cleaning) of the Dream Ballet. Steel, our Laurey for the evening is the perfect picture of Rodgers and Hammerstein Optimism, Sweetness and Cherry Pie. Even when her vertically advantaged friends play keep away from her she is always full of grace and goodwill to all. Poor dear, you know something bad is coming her way. In and amongst the graceful prairie belles and salt of the earth, bowlegged farmers and cowboys, she is approached by the adorably awkward ranch hand Curly (Gryanzova, again) and embarks on a whirlwind romance. But at the wedding everything goes south in a hurry, and in one of the most heart breaking scenes (Laurie clasping her dead lover’s hand as he/she is carried off) and Steel is left to the mercy of the cruel world and even crueler man. I was on the edge of my seat expecting some sort of happy resolution, but was greeted by the Shins’s Sleeping Lessons. Steam Heat expects you to be on your toes just as much as they are.


Tightrope: (Stephanie Ernst) A quartet of very expressive ladies in pseudo tuxedoes grind and shimmy and elegantly totter their way across the stage to Monae’s Tightrope a kind of neo-swing hit that does not fail to stir the blood. The quartet take turns lip-syncing peaces of tart advice, showing off for each other and treating us to the most lively expressions. Anderson and Harrington possess particular talent for this last department and it is an education to see them show how many expressions the human mouth can form.


Money: (Laura Day) And finally a masterstroke of choreography from the shady world of Cabaret. The music recreated to a tee by the in-house band, guest singer Daniel Liu and backup artists Ernst and Steel, look on while Day becomes a living marionette, rising joint by joint, rim shot by rim shot, from the floor with the help of a sinister tuxedoed puppeteer (Gryaznova, a third time) until she bounces up and the two slither and split about soaking up Ebb’s darkly comedic view on the nature of love and human relationships. No cherabins to be found here. As leaps become more and more energetic and exhaustive until the tangled marinate reasserts itself, jerking upon the floor, spent and sardonic. And then we move into day-glow footloose. Musical Dissonance isn’t all that bad.

These are but some of the best crafted moments from an evening rife with grace, clarity and good ol’ fashioned fill-you-crown-to-toe broadway hits. This is the last show the seniors of the company will ever perform and they must be satisfied both in the quality of their show but in their fellows ready and able to step into their place.

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