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Philip Sandstrom

The Joyce Theater presents "Hapless Bizarre" and "Mo(or)town/Redux"
Clowning around like a fish out of water…


“Hapless Bizarre” and “Mo(or)town/Redux”
Performed By Doug Elkins Choreography, etc
The Joyce Theater
January 7-11, 2015
Wednesday at 7:30pm; Friday at 8pm; and Sunday at 2pm & 7:30pm.
Tickets are available at http://www.joyce.org/performance/doug-elkins-choreography-etc/#.VKXzxYcufs0

Mark Gindick in doug elkins choreography, etc.’s “Hapless
Bizarre." Photo by Jamie Kraus

Philip W. Sandstrom: In your upcoming show at The Joyce you encore a work from your last show at the Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) in 2014, and feature a new work. Tell us a bit about the two different dances.

Doug Elkins:
We are bringing back "Mo(or)Town/Redux"; the best way to describe it is the retelling of Othello on the set of Soul Train.

The new work, "Hapless Bizarre," is a product of our residencies at The Joyce DANI, and The Yard where our old drinking buddy David White works.

In this new piece, I’ve cast my friend and colleague Mark Gindick, the former lead clown at Big Apple Circus. We’re playing with his new Vaudevillian identity; in a certain way this dance is a retrograde of the Othello dance. Playing with the roles in Slapstick Comedy and Screwball Comedy.

PWS: Wait, if this new dance is retrograde doesn’t that mean it will be presented backwards?

DE: I meant it’s an inversion of, it’s not retrograde. There’s nowhere to go once the lead is killed, you don’t want to see a clown dragging around a dead body…although some people might see that as funny…

PWS: If it’s an inversion does it start with the clown upside down?

DE: How do I describe this? It starts with the games or game structure in Mo(or)Town and tries to create more romantic things with the movement that one would see in Shakespeare but also in Screwball comedies like "Bringing Up Baby" with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant or "Raising Arizona."

PWS: Where did this all begin?

DE: While I was researching, I looked at old eccentric dances, romantic comedies between Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, "The Apartment" by Billy Wilder, a good social satire, Erma Duse with Shirley MacLaine as a kind-hearted prostitute, and others of that genre.

PWS: Let’s go into what you’re doing, your process with the performers and specifically why have you chosen to work with Mark in this new dance?

DE: Mark and I have always been interested in doing something together. I started working with my ideas and brought in memories of working with him and people like Bill Irwin, The Flying Karamazovs, and feeding those memories and experiences into my dance language. I went through some of the old eccentric dances from the work of Ray Bolger to old friends in the Hip-Hop scene that were known for their eccentric styles.

PWS: Where did you begin with Mark in your choreographic process?

DE: I started where he was, his style, and brought in people from clowning workshops like the lovely Deborah Lohse, who is a dance-comic genius. She’s like Carol Burnett spliced onto the body of a ballerina. Then, reflecting upon Mo(or)Town, the deconstruction of the Othello story, and the games with the symbol of the handkerchief, I put in similar things in “Hapless Bizarre” with clown props and clown motifs. It’s a melange of The Red Balloon, Umbrellas of Cherburg, and….

PWS: Let’s go back to basics, how many dancers are in the work, what roles does Mark play within the work, and how do you work with his talents in conjunction with your company and its particular strengths?

DE: There is a cast of seven in "Hapless Bizarre" and a cast of four in "Mo(or)Town/Redux." For "Hapless Bizarre" I brought all of these different people in and sort of made a Venn diagram of their abilities and strengths and then I watched the vocabularies as they evolved together as we played. I built this dance around the talents of this cast.

PWS: Explain Mark’s contribution, how do you use him in the dance? Does he perform as part of the ensemble or does he perform a principle role?

DE: He is both. He is not an odd duck among swans, he is an odd duck among other odd ducks. One would think at first that he’s the odd man out but that’s not the case. He has a really nice way in which he convey’s his "menchiness", his oddness onstage. He has a way of bringing the audience into the work. I realize in some ways he may be subbing for me. I see certain autobiographical elements when I watch him perform. But he comes out all Mark, he has a style of his own.

PWS: What are your sources? How do you research your ideas?

DE: I took some elements from Keaton and Chaplin scenes and from Jackie Chan, who was a student of Keaton and Chaplin. But I also referenced romantic scenes played by Beatrice and Benedict in "As You Like It" while playing off the premises of old vaudeville bits. I use all of those ideas as dance structures. I use physical comedy, like the mirror game in the Marx Bros, vaudeville coat tricks and hat tricks, and physical comedy, such as when Lucille Ball gets her hand stuck in a bowling ball or somehow handcuffs herself to a pole. This kind of material is utilized and worked into the mix to make "Hapless Bizarre". Imagine Twyla Tharp’s "Push Comes to Shove" done as a Buster Keaton routine.

PWS: How do you piece the dance together? What’s your structure, your method? Do you come into rehearsal with a certain amount of material already made?

DE: We start by playing with a phrase or two. We’ll try different ideas bases on my research, certain comic ideas. We’ll do some clowning work with Mark and the dancers then we’ll use that as the premise of a compositional structure like your hands are stuck together, and you’re trying to unglue yourself from one another. Sort of like Fatty Arbuckle and Steve Paxton doing contact improv together. We play with these premises and then riff on them.

PWS: You then assemble these explorations, these bits of material, and establish the structure to make the dance?

DE: I assemble it like a mosaic. The dancers are very involved in creating this phrase material. After establishing a structure we then experiment with repositioning sections until we achieve an order that works together organically. I rearrange the sections like so much bad Ikea furniture and I continually re-edit.

PWS: Is there a through line, or story line in "Hapless Bizarre" like in "Mo(or)Town/Redux"?

Kyle Marshall and Donnell Oakley in doug elkins choreography,
etc.'s "Mo(or)town/Redux." Photo by Jamie Kraus

DE: A narrative line is alluded to at times, but I tend to follow the approach of David Lynch who said “I don’t see why my art should make sense, my life doesn’t.” That being said, there are small narrative arcs that one can assemble in the same way as a screwball comedy fish out of water sequence or a silly boy meeting girl sequence.

PWS: So would you say that "Hapless Bizarre" is diametrically opposed to the "Mo(or)Town/Redux" dance?


DE: I wouldn’t say diametrically opposed. I would say that there are similarities but we change the perspective, we approach the lighter side of situations. Just like some of Shakespeare’s comedies feature the Yin and Yang of love relations that can go dark very quickly or brighten as the situation changes.

PWS: Tell me about your sound score for "Hapless Bizarre" because the "Mo(or)Town/Redux" score was haunting. It was much eerier than the one you used when we worked together on your first version of Mo(or)Town in the 80’s at Dance Theater Workshop. The new score has some Marvin Gaye cuts where he sings a cappella that are tremendous. Who’s creating your score for "Hapless Bizarre"?

DE: The sound score for Hapless is really wonderful. It was created by the same people who did the "Mo(or)Town/Redux" sound score --Justin Levine and Matt Stein. It’s made up of strange homages to everything from 60’s bachelor pad music to the school health and hygiene films of the 60’s. They use certain pastiches and layers that make this score integral to the dance.

PWS: I’m looking forward to your latest endeavor and ready to laugh as you bring in the clowns.

The New York premiere of "Hapless Bizarre," a delightful dance for six performers including a new vaudevillian, explores the intersections between physical comedy, choreography, flirtation, and romance; and the reprise of "Mo(or)town/Redux", which revisits, both Shakespeare’s Othello and Jose Limón’s seminal modern dance work "The Moor’s Pavane", like Limón, Elkins transforms the text of Shakespeare’s tragedy into a dance piece for four characters—Othello, Iago, Desdemona, and Emilia—and the simple prop of a handkerchief.  With a Motown and neo-Motown-inspired score, Elkins explores themes of power, love, jealousy, and betrayal in this acclaimed work.


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