KPBS AIRDATE: May 10, 2002
It’s the age-old dichotomy between entertainment and enlightenment. And it’s not confined to theater; it can take physical as well as linguistic or dramatic form. There is, of course, a place for sheer, senseless diversion. But though it may amuse or amaze you, it doesn’t leave you thinking or touch your soul, make you contemplate your history or humanity.
This month, the difference is made strikingly clear in the realm of youthful energy and arduous, intensive physical training. The outcomes are vastly dissimilar; on the spectacle side, there’s Cirque du Soleil, an empty-headed extravaganza that evolved from a charmingly small, ragtag French Canadian exhibition to an international cash-cow that’s grown too big and ostentatious for its own opulent costumes. On the more contemplative side is Eveoke Dance Theater, which goes into the inner city and makes dance relevant to the lives of young people, lacing it with social commentary and political activism.
When the Cirque first began nearly 20 years ago, it was unique among circuses — it boasted no animals, but incredible acts, offbeat clowns, a slight, endearing story and enormous charisma and heart. “Dralion,” its latest incarnation, is a hyperactive mishmash of cultures and costumes, with constant, aimless activity front, center, sideways, up above and down below. It seems terrified that the audience might not, for one second, be overstimulated. The story is gone, the clowns are singularly unfunny, except when they’re ridiculing the serious circus acts, and there isn’t much meaning to the dragon-lion combo that gives the piece its name. The acts are astonishing but unfeeling, performed with military precision but no personality. For the most part, they seem like Chinese automatons. The most appealing act is the gorgeously sexy, sly, serpentine juggler. But with all its virtuosity, this nouveau Cirque has become vapid and overblown, not to mention obscenely expensive.
If you want to see young, intensely trained bodies — attached to brains — with social conscience to boot, head on down to Eveoke Dance Theater, to view its Youth Performing Group in “Funkalosophy,” which has the heady intention of presenting a philosophy of hip hop. While it may not fulfill its lofty mission, it clearly demonstrates the skill and agility of the dancers and the range and diversity of hip hop music, including the flipside of its often-misogynistic message. Thanks to eternally inventive co-choreographers Gina Angelique and Ericka Moore, these energetic adolescents do as much with a piece of chainlink fence, an apple or a balloon as any acrobat. The first act is jaw-dropping, though the second is a bit heavy-handed. But overall, it’s a thrilling evening of entertainment and enlightenment, one that touches you, moves you and makes you think. And that’s hitting the heights — in a tent or on a stage.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc