Smuin Ballet and Shocktoberfest 2007

Friday night Dave and I saw Smuin Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. I thought it was a terrific program. Amy Seiwert’s Objects of Curiosity, a world premiere, is an abstract dance; it seemed to me to be nothing revolutionary but attractive and interesting. Michael Smuin’s Duettino is a flashy trifle that lets a pair of good dancers show off a lot. Smuin’s Stabat Mater, choreographed in response to 9/11, is very powerful and beautiful, though the mixing of images suggestive of the Stabat Mater and of 9/11 is startling and I’m not sure what the point of the juxtaposition is. The last piece on the program, Reinin’ in the Hurricane, is delightful, a series of short turns set to popular country-western songs, beginning and ending with “Don’t Fence Me In”.

I thought two Asian male dancers, Koichi Kubo in Duettino and Kevin Yee-Chan in Reinin’ in the Hurricane, were standouts, both of them pulling off a lot of flashy moves with a lot of charm. All in all a very enjoyable evening.

Then last night Dave and Terry and I went to the Hypnodrome to see Thrillpeddlers’ Shocktoberfest!! 2007: Maker of Monsters. Thrillpeddlers specializes in recreating Grand Guignol, and a few years ago they acquired their own tiny theater, the Hypnodrome. Dave and I have seen most of the Shocktoberfests since the first one at the Exit Theater, and we both thought this was the best one ever. They’ve done individual plays that have worked as well for me — I especially remember The Crime in the Madhouse, which Dave and I both found particularly disturbing — but this is the first show they’ve done where I felt like they were at their best all the way through from beginning to end. The actors played more consistently with conviction, and even those who have been Thrillpeddlers regulars for a while seemed to have improved a level or two in believability. The stage effects were more consistently effective and something downright beautiful, and the overall shape of the program was very satisfying.

The Grand Guignol recipe was a program of very short plays, a mix of sex farces and lurid Nightmare-on-Elm-Street style melodramas with lots of sadism, terror, stage blood, and other gruesome effects. The first play on the bill was The Maker of Monsters, which we’re pretty sure they did once before in a Shocktoberfest back in the Exit, but it was much much stronger this time around. This was followed by a series of three very short skits based on three very unusual — yet very popular in terms of the number of Google searches made per day — sexual fetishes.

After an intermission, The Colossus is a creepy, brooding play about a sculptor who loses his beloved four-year-old daughter in a fire, and The Bloody Con is a silly farce about four convicts forced to take part in a gruesome medical experiment, and is as much as anything an excuse for a lot of stage blood and other effects. But it ends the show on a note of silliness and fun.

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