May 31, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 83°F


Grounded acting fails to move story

“In the Company of Dancers,” the latest production at the Kitchen Theatre, is a complex theatrical performance that combines narrative and motion, but fails to accurately portray the life of a woman with one simple goal — to dance.

The semiautobiographical script by the Kitchen Theatre’s artistic director Rachel Lampert tells the story of Deborah (Norma Fire), a lifelong dancer. During the play, Deborah sorts through mementos from important moments in her life and uses those bits of her past to tell the audience her story. Monologues introduce the 15 separate dance numbers that are recreations from Deborah’s career as a performer used to form the narrative of her life.

From left, Timothy Connell and Stephen Nunley dance with Lindsay Gilmour in the Kitchen Theatre’s newest work “In the Company of Dancers,” a production about the life of a professional dancer. Courtesy of the Kitchen Theatre

On top of writing and directing, Lampert choreographed the well-constructed show with Lindsay Gilmour, assistant professor of theater arts at Ithaca College. Though the production successfully highlights the dancers’ technical skills, the pieces concentrate on relationships rather than technique. This approach was meant to turn the show into a more traditional theater production, but falls short without a clear connection between the dance and script.

Violinist Linda Case, cellist Rosie Elliot and pianist Andrea Merrill add to the performance with their expert manipulations of difficult pieces. The diverse musical choices feature many classical composers, such as Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms and George Frideric Handel. Despite the small performance space, the musicians were able to sit on stage, which adds to the intimacy of the show. Not a single dancer crashes into the instrumentalists, though a few come close, speaking to the coordination of such a detailed production.

In a piece set to Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E minor, Movement 4, the dancers alternate between flowing movements and abrupt motions, which gives the audience an introduction to the appeal and difficulty of modern dance. This coordinated skill proves the cast is widely talented and capable of the technical skill necessary in a play about professional dancers.

As the retired Deborah, Fire is charming, but does not give off the spirit of the lifelong dancer her character is meant to be. Her stage presence captures the wisdom of age through expressive hand gestures and reserved but precise movements across the stage, but not the limberness of a revered dancer.

Though Fire’s character is scripted to represent Deborah as a mature and developed dancer, the choreography associated with her role prevent the actress from giving a fully convincing performance. Fire only dances in the opening number, which makes her unable to portray a naturally fluid physicality that a lifelong artist would earn.

In the middle of the show, a dance number set to Bach’s Prelude for Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G major brings junior musical theater major Ryan MacConnell and cellist Elliot to center stage. Through Lampert’s choreography and Elliot’s proficiency, MacConnell performs a visually appealing solo. This is one of the only moments where the story and dance come together and show what this performance could have been if the script matched the quality of the dancer’s technique.

While the narrator of the Kitchen Theatre’s most recent work is able to recall the choreography from her past in perfect detail, “In the Company of Dancers” is unlikely to leave a lasting impression on those who choose to see it.

“In the Company of Dancers” will run through Sunday at the Kitchen Theatre. Tickets are $25 for students and $32 for adults.