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Henry Baumgartner

Michael Helland Dresses Up for the Theater


On our way to the land of the bizarre with Michael Helland in "The Dress Up Show." Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Michael Helland
"The Dress Up Show"
Chocolate Factory
May 24-26, 2007
reviewed by Henry Baumgartner May 25, 2007

One quality that is surprisingly often missing from downtown dance is sheer theatrical zaniness. Perhaps some feel it detracts from the serious appearance of their work. Fortunately, here comes Michael Helland with enough nuttiness to make up for weeks of lugubriousness.

The advance publicity for "The Dress Up Show" sounded strange and a little alarming. Audience members were to walk through a "live-art installation" where they would receive fantasy makeovers using a large selection of costumes, then move into a series of performance events, activating "the performer in each of us." Uh, oh. But it all sounded too odd to miss, and in fact, the evening's events were a lot of fun, if a bit thin.

On entering, we were indeed whisked into a large dressing-room-like area where a number of Helland's operatives took us in tow, trying on one outlandish getup after another until our vanity or self-destructiveness was satisfied. Then we proceeded upstairs to watch some desultory movements as we waited for the rest of the audience to be worked over.

Helland, fetchingly attired in a mass of white tulle with zebra-striped tights, proceeded to read something to set the tone for the evening; appropriately, it was a text that seemed to make no sense. He proceeds to change outfits a few times, ending up stark naked, though enwrapped in a cloud of purple gauze.

Miriam Wolf, one of the dancers, has a confession for Stephanie Booth. It's pretty shattering and tough to get out: "I'm a robot." She's come to terms with her mechanical nature, even marching in the robot pride parade. "Some of you in the audience may be robots yourselves." Okay, we get it.

There are more outrageous costumes, and at one point Wolf, Booth, Cathy Pansulla and Anna Carapetyan are rolled up in a plastic tarp, emitting hair-raising screams. Besides the actual performers, the room is well salted with various agents of Helland's; I spotted Jamm Leary, uncredited in the program as far as I could tell. There are space suits and lots of screaming. There are also, sad to say, plenty of slow stretches where nothing much is going on. But the performers' enthusiasm, in the end, carried the day, at least on this occasion.


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