Cal Performances Big Dance Theater 17c 3 Johanna Austin

Big Dance Theater 17c at Zellerbach Playhouse

above: Pictured: Big Dance Theater performs 17c Thursday–Sunday, December 13–16, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. Pictured: Aaron Mattocks and Elizabeth DeMent. (credit: Johanna Austin)

Pictured: Big Dance Theater performs 17c Thursday–Sunday, December 13–16, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. Clockwise from top left: pictured Paul Lazar, Kourtney Rutherford, Aaron Mattocks, and Cynthia Hopkins.
(credit: Johanna Austin)

Review by Jo Tomalin

Big wigs, brocade costumes, bustles and a text based on the diaries of Samuel Pepys,  a 17thcentury politician is adapted and modernized in a feminist re-examination of Samuel Pepys. Big Dance Theater 17c is conceived and directed by award-winning creative Annie-B Parson, artistic director and co-founder of Big Dance Theater. Cal Performances presents this piece at Zellerbach Playhouse December 13-16, 2018 as part of their Berkeley RADICAL Women’s Work programming strand, which recognizes the artistry of women creators across a range of artistic genres.

Pictured: Big Dance Theater performs 17c Thursday–Sunday, December 13–16, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. Pictured: Aaron Mattocks, Elizabeth DeMent, and Kourtney Rutherford. (credit: Johanna Austin)

17c is a West Coast premiere from the New York based Big Dance Theater and is vibrantly told through music, movement, spoken word, dialogue, technology, brief dance routines, recorded text, and imaginative use of space. Color is everywhere –in the creative set design by Joanne Howard and innovative costume design by Oana Botez.

The journals of Samuel Pepys are now told with a female perspective, infused with source texts by Margaret Cavendish, Euripides, Ionesco, Claire Tomalin and others, which works very well. A cast of five – Elizabeth DeMent, Cynthia Hopkins, Paul Lazar (also Co-director), Mikéah Jennings, and Kourtney Rutherford) fills the space and transforms into the many characters in full view on the stripped open sides and the stage. Spoken words are spare and witty, accompanied by curious imagery, live video and zippy music, which produces a mélange of fascinating moments.

Pictured: Big Dance Theater performs 17c Thursday–Sunday, December 13–16, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse. Pictured: Paul Lazar, Kourtney Rutherford, Cynthia Hopkins, Aaron Mattocks, and Elizabeth DeMent.
(credit: Johanna Austin)

Scenes are placed around the stage and often pop up out of nowhere! One humorous recurring scene is of two young girls sitting on the front of the stage talking in their book club with chatty and intuitive commentary, spectacled with quirky choreographed arm gestures. Other scenes include wit, clown, slapstick and dynamic gender bending portrayals. A highlight is when beautiful music is played live by the performers, underscoring a man in a large comfy armchair telling his moving story about his wife. Parson’s direction results in a particularly characterful scene, well played by the actor and musicians.

Hot pink and purple lights and many other lighting combinations of Joe Levasseur’s lighting design are exciting. Video design by Jeff Larson in quick transitions and unexpected angles is very effective.

Parson has brought to life a play by play deconstructed diary of Samuel Pepys and his time complete not only with the often louche behavior of the 1660s but also with modern social commentary of #MeToo. This is compelling and creative dance theatre. Recommended!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in San Francisco, where she reviews Theatre & Dance for & - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for Actors, Voice for Actors, Storytelling, Business of Acting, Acting and directs MainStage plays. Jo's first play "Jessica" which she also directed was produced at the Fringe of Marin - a One Act New Play Festival. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Completed the two year professional training course at the renowned acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France, where she also completed the Laboratoire du Mouvement (LEM) scenography and movement course. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →