POSTED ON JULY 13, 2011:
Portico Dans Theatre returns with a super summer staging
Portico Dans Theatre made a name for itself with Project Alice, a retelling in dance of the Alice in Wonderland story, at last year's Summerstage Festival.
This year, the company returns to Summerstage with its second evening-length dance extravaganza, Super Suite, a tale of superheroes and supervillians set to music from the 1940s. The show is both a spoof on comic book archetypes and an homage to life during World War II, when a popular culture of pep and fun played over an undercurrent of fear and loss, when -- as so often in the comics -- things were sometimes very different than they appeared.
"Portico embraces the full story ballet--the show--because we love to tell a story and really have fun with it," said Valeria Cordero, the company's co-artistic director, who developed the concept for Super Suite from sources as varied as Ray Liechtenstein's paintings, an OSU course on psychodrama, and the Muse song "The Knights of Cydonia."
"I was listening to that song during Project Alice," Cordero said, "and it reminded me of the battles in the comic book-inspired TV shows many of us remember watching as kids. I thought, what about a comic book ballet?"
Cordero and Jennifer Alden -- Portico's other artistic director -- developed the idea into a two-act, 12-scene production that features a cast of more than 20 local dancers and actors, retro animation by Garrick Staggs integrated into the set, '40s-style costumes (complete with masks and capes for the "super" crew), and live musicians performing onstage with the dancers, as well as a featured performance by the Oklahoma Swing Syndicate.
The story involves a bookish supervillain named Miss Understood (Cassie Hampton) who, with her sidekick LOL (Cordero), takes on her nemesis, superhero Captain Obvious (Jeff Perritt) and his sidekick Special K (Alden) after a break-in. Keeping a close eye on everything -- maybe too close -- is J. P. Gates as Commissioner Dewdrop (whose name is both a nod to The Nutcracker and a gentle jab at our own mayor).
Hampton, who recently appeared in the music video for Hanson's "Give a Little," said her character "is not your average villain. She is more of a very clumsy, very intelligent social outcast that society has labeled 'villain,' but she ultimately just wants to fit in. She buries herself in her books, forcing her evil sidekick to constantly wake her from her daydreams so they can get back to the 'evil to-do list.'"
Hampton described Miss Understood as ultimately learning to "stand up for herself instead of just being what everyone else wants her to be."
The choreography, by Alden, Cordero and Michael Lopez, features as many surprises as the story and the characters. Super Suite blends jazz and ballet with tap, Fosse-inspired blues (in a jail scene), and even hip-hop (in a scene for city policemen created by Lopez, a Tulsa hip-hop dancer, choreographer, and teacher). Featured songs include "Sunny Side of the Street," "Strangers in the Night," and the riotous "Sing, Sing, Sing," to which the final battle scene is set.
"Jazz music gave us the idea to keep doing something different all the way through the show," Alden said. "We wanted there to be something new all the time."
Alden cited West Side Story as a significant influence, as well as the dynamic moves of Adam West in the original Batman. "What he did in those fights was choreography, absolutely," she said with a laugh.
Portico has become a vital presence in the Tulsa community since its founding in 2009, bringing dance to such events as Living Arts of Tulsa's Dia de los Muertos festival and the Tulsa Young Professionals' "Polishing the Pearl." Its company members, in addition to being trained dancers, are everyday Tulsans with day jobs and families, who volunteer all their rehearsal and performance time.
"I feel that they bring all that life experience to their performance, which makes it fun to watch," Alden said. She also noted that partnerships with local organizations simply mean more fun for everyone, citing as an example the upcoming after-parties at the Mayo Hotel on Friday and Saturday July 15 and 16, at which people who bring their ticket stub following the show can meet the Portico dancers and enjoy half-price appetizers courtesy of the hotel.
"Our goal is always to bring as many different types of people as possible to the theater to experience dance," Cordero said.
Super Suite stages Friday-Sunday, July 15,-17 at the Liddy Doenges Theatre at the PAC. For show times and ticket information, call 918-596-7111 or visitmyticketoffice.com.
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