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      Nicole Wolcott, a.k.a. Maria in Doug Elkins' Fraulein Maria
      Photo by Steven Schreiber
      Nicole Wolcott, a.k.a. Maria
    A Dream that Needs All the Love You Can Give

    Doug Elkins' "Fraulein Maria" works over a classic musical


    I believe dance-makers create rites of passage to find the right ways to transform themselves through movement, with audience as witness and participant. In Fraulein Maria's "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," Doug Elkins, downtown-wunderkind-grown-older-and-wiser, was a shaman in his own rite, channeling his past to embark on the future. He also struck me as a clown of God, dancing fully foolish and earnest. He made me think: we send up what our imaginations are examining closely, and through this we make of ourselves what we are looking for.

    Choreography by: Doug Elkins.
    Dancers: Arthur Aviles, Archie Burnett, Doug Elkins, Mark Gindick, Jen Nugent, David Parker, Nicole Wolcott, and Johnnie Moore.
    Music by: Rodgers and Hammerstein.
    Joe's Pub December 12-15, 2007

    The Sound of Music, a film that blends the spiritual and secular, vocational and domestic. is a film after my own heart — with a lot of heart — and not afraid to show it. One particular moment always gets to me: Captain Von Trapp is furious upon returning to his house to find his seven children inspirited by their governess Maria and frolicking in trees and rowboats. He snaps them back into military order and barks at Maria to pack her bags.

    Then from within the house, the children begin to sing. The Captain hears it — he follows the sound into the house, peeks into the parlor. He sees his children making music. Right in front of our eyes, his heart melts, his body transforms. He's healed by music, by the memory of his deceased wife's music, love for his children and for Maria. His skin relaxes, his joints unblock, his whole being resounds. He enters a state of grace, he goes to the hills, he comes into the room singing.

    In interviews previewing "Fraulein Maria," Doug Elkins indicated that his own dance-making was stifled for several years as a result of a knot of circumstances: the responsibilities of becoming a father, the ending of his marriage, the general malaise in not-for-profit dance funding, all of which led to the dissolution of his fifteen-year-old company and a dearth of inspiration. But at the rock-bottom heart of this, he heard music. Watching The Sound of Music with his son Liam, an idea happened. Elkins took songs from the musical, and created danced episodes with the film's characters tossed into his own inimitable street-and-studio style of movement.

    (left to right) Nicole Wolcott, Arthur Aviles (in back), Jen Nugent in Doug Elkins' Fraulein Maria
    Photo by Steven Schreiber
    (left to right) Nicole Wolcott, Arthur Aviles (in back), Jen Nugent

    In my viewing, most of the dances in "Fraulein Maria" did not establish their own integral worlds; they leaned heavily on the film, culling energy by association from the rich mythology and choreography of The Sound of Music. The audience at Joe's Pub had a whooping good time relishing memories of the film and enjoying canny, ironic twists on it. It was good fun.

    But there was one moment where it stayed fun and dove deep, where the dance-and-music was fully and simply itself, where it needed nothing, where it was everything. There was no interpretation going on, no commentary, no talking about. Watching it, my jaw dropped. I thought: my heart wants to sing every song it hears. I shifted fully into the present; I changed.

    In "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," Doug climbs the mountain — he also moves it, transforms it, shatters all I know about the mountain; he reinvents the song and the idea of a nun in a habit; he slices lyrics and sound apart and stuffs them with movement, like a pig roast with apples.

    Yes! I respond. This is it, this is what I've been waiting for; this is the performance that performs itself, just waiting to pour out. It appears out of Doug's history, his present, and probably some of his future. We know he's been hurt, we know we carry grief, we know there is disjunction in our world and we don't know what's to come.

      The audience at Joe's Pub had a whooping good time relishing memories of the film and enjoying canny, ironic twists on it. It was good fun.
    Because of all this, he's doing it. He's making it. He's killing it. He's dancing to a nun who's singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." I don't know if he's improvising or performing composed movement, and I don't care. I don't know anything about the process of how he came up with it, and I don't care. Doug's doing what he does. It's perfect. It is happening now right in front of my eyes, and I could watch it for the rest of my life. I'm grateful to be here.

    Doug is a fountain, spouting movement like the Mother Abbess spouts song — in a loose sweatshirt-hoodie and pants, his own habit. He's layered, I can't fully see his face, he's a hermit. Strings and zippers hold him together, sneakers are loose on his feet. He shows us exactly what he wants to show us; he is in control of his projection of energy, it's both loose and precise. He's unpretentious, just tossing off movement. But he's commanding — the kinesthetic perfume wafting off him is filling the room with no effort at all. I'm not sure if this is performance, possession, or playing around, and I don't care.

    I think Doug doesn't care either, but he does. He's making fun of the song, and he's honoring it. He's not interpreting the words — he's creating new meanings for the Rodgers and Hammerstein words:

    Climb every mountain,
    Search high and low
    Follow every byway,
    Every path you know

    Doug is sending a continuous line of energy through his body — vertically, horizontally, diagonally, in and out of his center, up his body and down. It's amazing to see a man evidence so much continuity, his electric circuit making looped paths out of his muscles and bones. His flesh follows an electric thought, plays with it, noodles with it, flings it back out into the space around him.

    Climb every mountain,
    Ford every stream
    Follow every rainbow,
    Till you find your dream

    It's amazing to see a man evidence so much continuity, his electric circuit making looped paths out of his muscles and bones.  

    Yes, it's not so much a dance of muscle and bone Doug's doing; it's a dance of electrics and air and hormones, of nervous, endocrinous, reproductive systems — waves, secretions, spurting organs. I can't begin to mentally assimilate every detail of it; I just ride his everything, and get charged by his energy and image. He grabs his crotch on "Ford every stream" — instantly we all get it. We know exactly the stream he's talking about; we read bravura, orgasm, and anguish, too, the idea that this is what he's got to offer, this electric current, these chemicals, this organ of inception — which made the child, which led him to the song, which brings him to this moment of transformation. What he's doing is beautiful, grave, funny, endless. It's over much too soon. Doug is break-dancing and it's heart-breaking. It's moving.

    A dream that will need All the love you can give Every day of your life For as long as you live

    Doug's heart, his whole chest cavity — his respiratory and cardiovascular systems — shudder, convulse at this. You get the sense that he knows of what he dances and of what the Mother Abbess sings; and he is willing to go on the path the song-and-dance make.

    It's moving if you know Doug's story, but it's moving even if you don't, because you experience every nuance of his life played out in a framework — confusion, anger, faith, loss, joy, recovery. It's a rite that's particular and includes everything. And I think, this is why dance is it. It does something to you as both dancer and witness. To borrow another Rodgers and Hammerstein lyric, all the rest is talk.

    DECEMBER 20, 2007

    Reader comments on Doug Elkins' Fraulein Maria:

  • Climb Every Mountain   from Joe Jansen, Feb 11, 2010

  • Post a comment on "Doug Elkins' Fraulein Maria"