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European-American Topics - Culture - Constanza Macras

Monty Python’s legacy on the dance floor
Constanza Macras / Dorky Park
Back to the Present
October 6 – 8, 2006

On the Boards, Seattle, WA

By Roxana Arama
Posted October 11, 2006

On Friday, October 6, 2006, the audience at the On the Boards Theater in Seattle, WA, got up from the chairs at the intermission with nods and wide smiles. A woman in the front row started talking on her cell phone in an excited voice: “Funny as hell,” she said. “You’d like this,” she continued, “it’s really funny and the audience is just hysterical.”

            It’s hard to describe Constanza Macras’s show Back to the Present without using clichés (funny, exhilarating, refreshing) or without falling into elaborate constructions about the complexity of human emotions. Her show makes fun of both these approaches. In an interview with Time Out New York magazine, Macras, 36, explained: “I wanted to make a piece about the end of affairs. It’s about the addiction to a person, an addiction for people to see things that they absolutely know – and how there’s no progression in life. Everything just happens in the moment. It’s about the emptiness of everybody’s life.”

            To portray the emptiness of everybody’s life, the Dorky Park dancers flood the stage with stuffed animals, pieces of furniture, inflatable dolls and animals, clothes, yellow cardboard pictures, and then dance, sing and act on that battleground, most of the time oblivious of one another’s presence. The Theater Heute, a leading German theater magazine, wrote that the piece reflected "exactly the scene of Berlin bohemia," yet the details that identify Berlin are almost nonexistent. Except for a few lines in German, the show is spoken mostly in English, the lingua franca of Berlin’s bohemia.

“It was our own history, and it had a lot to do with the bohemia that was in Berlin after the wall came down,” Macras said in the same interview. Regardless of the origins of the show, Macras’s work speaks to the universality of human feelings and also to the neurosis of today’s global society. “After breaking up an affair, there’s this urge for the past – for all this garbage that we accumulate, sentimental things,” Macras explained. “How important all the objects become and how we fetishize really cheap objects in the name of love is what the piece is about.”

A show about a universal subject, from an Argentine author living in Berlin, with an international cast that comes from places such as Mexico, Korea or Peru, is now on tour for the first time in the United States and it opened in New York last month. "Back to the Present" – alluding to the movie Back to the Future and the ‘80s pop culture – is a mix of dance, skits, video, live rock and pop music, a blend much in the tradition of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

All throughout the show, the audience fills in the blanks because the material is intimate to everyone. In the opening scene, a woman dances with no music, as if the music is supplied by the viewer. Then, here comes the music, loud and familiar: Bon Jovi, Vivaldi, Dirty Dancing, Tchaikovsky, Kate Bush and a recurrent Latin lounge remix of the Beatles’ Yesterday.

There are no arcane symbols at work here. The message is straightforward and the images speak in an unembellished language. In one scene, the Dorky Park Ensemble sits in a semi-circle and each person dressed up in a different outfit – evening dresses, fur coats, folk costumes, casual gear – plays a different instrument – a cello, a flute, a balalaika, drums, castanets, and even a dulcimer. The setting points to how different people are, and how different each person’s story must be. The next moment, they open their mouths and burst up in break-up clichés, things that everyone has said or has been told: “You remind me of my ex, myself, my mother.”

“Can we still be friends?”

“There’s no chemistry.”

“I need to focus on myself”

“It’s not the right time”

“I still like you as a person.”

It all ends up in shouts of “Bitch” and “Bastard.” Now, that’s something that everybody has seen before.

The humor is not only directed toward the outside world, it’s also self-deprecating. "I can’t believe this is where the city of Berlin puts its money," says a tall man in blue overalls complaining about their second-hand costumes. “Asking people to pay money to watch people fight with stuffed animals?” he asks. And since the answer is obvious, the troupe gives the audience its money’s worth in a live performance of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer where the singers chew and spit out rice cakes, covering the first two rows of spectators in white crumbs.

The dancers become strongly defined individual personalities as the show progresses. They act, sing, dance, change costumes often, push the furniture around and move props in and out of stage. “I still have an overkill of things going on at the same time,” Macras explained in her interview. “You have to make a choice where to look, and that’s really part of the concept. You don’t see everything, and it’s irritating actually. I kept that on purpose. You still have to choose what to look at.”

Of course, there is a lot to show when trying to cover a subject such as human nature. The show is about emptiness, memory, fetishes and garbage, but is also about superficiality, about the need to grab the spotlight, and about the positivist philosophy of the Western world. A woman lies crushed under a TV set in the opening scene. People want to be on TV, they give interviews and they talk to TV producers.

The dancers lend their own names to their attention-starved characters. Jared wants to tell the story of his ordinary life to the entire world. People in a fish tank, as in the opening scene of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, want to tell their stories, too. “Let me show this to millions,” Jared pleads. “They will love me and they will need me. I will be their new addiction.” He ends with hope, “Is that what you wanted?”

            “My name is Jill and I will be good on your show,” a blonde-haired woman says in a high-pitched voice. “I can handle gross things.” Later, she comes back on stage to dance and injures her leg. She continues to dance with a stiff leg. Falling down and getting up again, she pleads: “I’m good at what I do,” reiterating the chorus’s chant from a previous scene.

            The show uses certain elements over and over again as reminders and points of reference, symbols that hold the enterprise together. The ladder shows up again and again: in a slapstick video of a girl trying to commit suicide only to kill everybody around her by mistake, around the neck of a man trying to get through doors and fighting his way through, in another video of an empty warehouse where a girl, dressed only in a bathing suit and terrified of her past, tries to hide and gets attacked by stuffed animals.

Just when everything seems to have been already covered, just before the final scene, a woman starts talking about the end of the Earth due to a cataclysm and about moving to another planet. “We will walk the streets with golden skin,” she says before returning to the topic of ladybugs. And, there are casual references to weapons of mass destruction among the words of a man egging on a stripper. In a swift moment, that penultimate scene brings us back, back to the news headlines, back to the present.

In the final dance scene, people wear stuffed animals under their clothes, looking deformed and suffocated. They take off their extra load, and then they take off their clothes. Free, they run and dance, dance and throw stuffed animals in the air and at one another. The scene seems to say “the hell with all that.” Getting back to this present, where stuffed animals fly in the air and good-looking men and women get undressed or are being undressed on loud rock music, brings closure to their hackneyed, yet universal drama


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