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    Shannon Gillen & Guests: Clap for the Wolfman
    Photo by Corrine Furman

    Dark Doings Done Well

    Shannon Gillen & Guests make a meal of Clap for the Wolfman


    Nothing expected happens in Clap for the Wolfman, Shannon Gillen's new evening-length show presented at the theater at St. Mark's Church as part of the Incubator Arts Project. This creates tension, and wonder. At every turn, from the very beginning, the total opposite of expectation pops up. Somehow, though a sinister quality permeates everything, Wolfman ends up feeling joyful and funny.

    Choreography by: Shannon Gillen.
    Dancers: Genna Baroni, Xan Burley, Frances Chiaverini, Janna Diamond, and Kristin Swiat.
    Lighting design by: Michael Ingle.

    Related links: Incubator Arts Project | Shannon Gillen & Guests
    theater at St. Mark's Church
    May 12-14, 2011

    Dancers milling about in hooded sweatshirts, warming up, become a hissing pile of snakes, clumped against the back wall, in the first of many startling transformations. Already, the show has begun when the lights go down rather than when they go up. Even multiple blackouts feel fresh when a single worklight is the only source of light, the first of many effective KISS (keep it simple, stupid) elements. Stripping things down keeps Wolfman vital and surprising throughout.

    Frances Chiaverini and her white-balloon-bodied doppelganger strip down to skivvies for the first movement sequence, and Chiaverini moves big and odd in a way that most dancers appreciate and envy. The X-shaped puppet-double, strapped between Janna Diamond and Xan Burley, tries to mirror and keep up, leaving the audience to wonder what it means or to simply enjoy the movement. Or is it Chiaverini who is keeping up?

    No explaining appears until a section where each dancer takes the mic passed hand to hand and gives words to whatever pose their bodies land in ("this is me [doing something, or something, or something]"), shifting poses until the words stop coming to their mouths. The improvisation is clever, and the loss of words is funny, especially when a dancer takes the mic and can think of nothing to say before passing it off. Slinging the long mic cord around the stage adds KISS humor.

    Frances Chiaverini (looking) and Janna Diamond in Shannon Gillen & Guests: Clap for the Wolfman
    Photo by Corrine Furman
    Frances Chiaverini (looking) and Janna Diamond

    Sex and aggression percolate in most movement and interactions, as in a series of foot to crotch partnerings or in no-holds-barred pushing and pulling partnerings. Plastic bags strapped over faces imply danger or dogs, when the dancers gather on all fours and the bags take the shape of snouts. Like so much here, the bags lead audience minds to dark places or laughter.

    Minimal, crunchy-rumbly sounds, created on the fly with the live mic or from simple recorded samples, add a spooky ambiance, and dog/wolf masks show up to bolster the dog/wolf theme. A dog with a mic gives directions until two dancers are supine with their pants around their ankles, an anything-could-happen moment. As a third dancer pulls both pants off with a sudden flourish, the effect is that of a matador or the person waving flags to start a car race. (Tense old movie scenes of teen drivers playing "chicken" come to mind.)

    Clothes begin coming off and going on in strange and escalating cycles, one woman is ganged-up on repeatedly, a sturdy stick is used to measure things or to pole partners apart, and "Clap for the Wolfman" becomes the first and only music played. It's not clear what or if any of this means, but the slo-mo contortions that accompany the song and the mad and physical underwear dancing that ensues, in solos or groups, keep things lively and funny until the possibly dark ending, as all converge menacingly on one.

    Ideas, inventions and movement come fast and furious in Clap for the Wolfman, and the dancers — Genna Baroni, Xan Burley, Frances Chiaverini, Janna Diamond, and Kristin Swiat — take everything from Gillen and make it brilliant.

    MAY 15, 2011

    Reader comments on Shannon Gillen & Guests: Clap for the Wolfman:

  • brilliant   from sally, May 17, 2011

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