Doug Elkins and Friends kicked off this season’s ADF mainstage performances last Thursday with a guilty pleasure-indulgent, one-time performance of Fräulein Maria that won’t soon be forgotten.
This evening-length work, which premiered at the ADF in the summer of 2009, saluted Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” navigating the landscape of a familiar story with a comedic edge. Elkins’ work broke the fourth wall of the theater almost immediately, as an emcee conducted the audience in a round of “Do-Re-Mi” and then summoned an invisible Richard Rodgers onstage to speak about his musical masterpiece. In addition, audience members played a key role throughout the evening both physically and energetically; dancers played to audience members by joking with them, offering crackers to them and even climbing over seated patrons at one point. That must have been what Hammerstein meant by “the hills are alive.” Yuk yuk.
And that’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that permeated the night. From a bell ringer who slowly morphed into Quasimodo to a Mother Superior who channeled Mother of Modern Dance Martha Graham, Elkins’ work was rife with cultural commentary and literary allusions. Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet made its way into the piece as Maria was instructed, “Get thee to a nunnery,” before leaving the Captain’s home. And for the dancers in the audience, Elkins planted jokes in the work that were specific to dance culture – a well-placed Times Step and a marked petit allegro inspired waves of laughter in the audience.
Among the dance styles featured in Fräulein Maria were modern, tap, stepping, waving, voguing, B-boying and ballet, each of which was performed with technical prowess. But even better than the technique were the animation and commitment with which each dancer attacked his or her choreography. The performers sustained high movement integrity while keeping their moods lighthearted; it was clear that Elkins’ dancers let themselves truly enjoy performing together. And it seemed that the dancers especially enjoyed performing non-traditional gender roles.
Elkins’ cast featured male nuns, a male Maria and a male Liesl (the eldest von Trapp daughter), in addition to same-sex and opposite-sex couples portraying Maria and the Captain. A duet set to “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” featured two male dancers performing particularly scandalous choreography; Elkins’ commitment to outrageous sexual humor made this scene particularly unforgettable, despite its fierce competition from just about every other number in the show.
There wasn’t a single moment during Thursday’s performance where the audience was disengaged, and that’s saying something. Simply put, Fräulein Maria is a knockout of a dance composition. If you get a chance to see it live, take it!
Have you seen the show? Let me know your favorite part!
Doug Elkins and Friends’ Fräulein Maria
Conceived and Choreographed by: Doug Elkins
Directed by: Barbara Karger and Michael Preston
Presented by: The American Dance Festival
Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham, NC
June 14, 2012