“You will be moving during the performance. We encourage you to make use of the free coat and bag check,” we were told upon entering the lobby for LEVYdance’s performance of ROMP. And so the warmly welcoming ushers began to mentally prepare the audience for what was to come. There was an anticipatory charge going through the crowd – a sort of gleeful feeling as we realized we would all be a part of something different.
As we entered the actual performance space at Z Space to take our seats, we could see there was no discernible division between the performance area and the audience chairs. Nervous but excited conversations arose as we chose our seats from the many scattered around at different angles. Couples ended up back to back, friends were separated or had to twist around in their chairs to continue their conversations. The walls of pretense came down even further as the dancers, unannounced by lighting or music, casually filtered in and took their places among us.
The audience got to experience dance from three different perspectives throughout the show: very up close and personal with the dancers moving between the chairs in a raucous and energetic romp executed practically in our laps, then witnessing from a sort of theatre in the round (or square as it were) for an intimate and profoundly astute trio between principal dancers, Ben Levy, Scott Marlowe, and Mélodie Casta, and finally, at banquet tables for a steamy number that felt like a surreally accelerated nightclub experience. The dancers were the main dish, but not crassly so. They held the gazes of audience members seated across from them, engaged in mating rituals, and skipped, slid, and twirled across the tops of the tables. All these wheels spun in well-crafted mayhem until they slowly rotated to a focused soliloquy of four dancers, each alone on their own table. The immersive affect on the audience was such that by the end, when Scott Marlowe laid down on the table just inches from me, I felt the urge to reach out and wiggle his toe. I refrained of course, but wouldn’t have been surprised if he had reacted nonchalantly to it.
Part of what made the dancers feel so available was the use of lighting by the designer, Jack Beuttler, especially for the finale; the audience was actually inside the sphere of lighting which created the feeling of inclusiveness. Also, Artistic Director, Ben Levy chose fantastically evocative music – moving from the lively tunes of Brass Menazeri to more raw compositions of Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, and including the fresh variety of other artists: the Platters, Matmos, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Balkan Beat Box. The ensemble dancers, cast from the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, looked well prepared and seemed to be having fun with the material. The exchange between the principal dancers seemed like a relationship well-marinated. The exemplary executions of Ben Levy and Scott Marlowe were nothing short of what you would expect of dancers who have worked together for six years, and Mélodie Casta, with her expressive face and oozing sensuality, was a seamless addition to the team. The athletic trio were so aware and in tune with each other that it was like watching something simply live, as opposed to perform. I realize with pleasure that this something I’ve come to expect from LEVYdance.
The only criticism I would have of ROMP is that it was too short. Once the dancers made the banquet tables their stage we wanted to be there at their party forever. My Mom always says you shouldn’t leave a dinner guest feeling hungry, but LEVYdance definitely left the audience hungry for more. Perhaps that was the intention.
LEVYdance’s performance of ROMP continues through this weekend, November 17-20, 2011 at Z Space @ Theatre Artaud in San Francisco. There may be limited tickets available at the door or through Gilt City online: www.giltcity.com/san-francisco/levydance. For more information about LEVYdance, please visit their website: http://www.levydance.org