Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Troilus & Cressida (dance choreography)

Rehearsal, "Troilus & Cressida"

Every full-length Shakespeare production I have ever directed begins with a tableau, in which the participants all cross the stage and in some fashion introduce their characters.

Going all the way back to Romeo & Juliet at Guerrilla Theater Co., I had created a “reverse curtain call” in which Romeo stalks across the stage before dawn, followed by all other characters beginning the day, greeting each other (or giving a side eye) before two servants begin the street fight, all the the tune of “Come Out and Play” by the Offspring.

The tradition continued with Hamlet, as the Players enter, stopping to try on the various costumes they will eventually wear over the course of the evening, playing all of the supporting characters (see below.)

However, I also tried to choreograph the dumb show the Players present for the court, as a preface to The Murder of Gonzago. For those who are not familiar, in Shakespeare's time a "dumb show" was a silent, pantomimed abridgment of the full-length play that is about to follow. When Hamlet presents a play for the King and Queen, the text describes this particular dumb show. Most modern productions of Hamlet cut the pantomime, I had my reasons to keep it in though I cannot remember what they were.

In any event, I was doing horribly, trying to create it. It all looked stagy and pointless. Brian, who was playing Claudius, suggested I ask Pandora, who was (among other characters) the Player King, if she might ask her husband to come in and help us out.

I had only just met Pandora. I did not know who her husband was and said so. Brian told me she was married to David Shimotakahara. Then I said I didn’t know who that was.

Okay. Okay? I know little about dance. David Shimotakahara was at that time already a world famous dancer and performer. He had also recently established GroundWorks, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year.

So, anyway, David choreographed my dumb show. From that moment on, I have never again attempted to choreograph anything, not dance nor fighting, without an expert. If I could, I would ask someone to come in and do the directing for me.

Henry VIII for CleveShakes also started with a reverse curtain call, and included a dance sequence, choreographed by Sarah Clare, to represent the dying Queen Katherine’s hallucination of the king’s future wives (see above.) Timon of Athens also included dancing for the curtain call, staged by company member Amanda Trompak, because I couldn’t find an appropriate place for dancing anywhere else in that play.

This year we’re trying something new. For the opening of Troilus & Cressida, Catherine Anderson and Leilani Barrett have created a reverse curtain call which is an actual dumb show! If you pay close attention -- or even better, attend more than once -- you will notice that all the major events of the story to follow are represented in the choreography on this three-minute piece!

The centerpiece of the play, however, is a romantic tango between the titular lovers, all created by Anderson and Barrett, and featuring Brinden Harvey (Troilus) and Hannah Woodside (Cressida).

Cleveland Shakespeare Festival presents "Troilus & Cressida" opening June 15, 2018.

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