Somewhere, Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman are smiling.
The original MTV “VJ’s”—who lead the network and its music videos into world consciousness in the 1980s—weren’t mentioned during Danceworks Performance Company’s Plugged In, which opened Thursday. But they were there in spirit.
1980s Spirit to be exact, which happened along sometime after the Spirit of '76, and before that “Teen Spirit” Kurt Cobain could smell. The spirit nurtured by MTV’s music videos, VJs, and newsman Kurt Loder, heir to Cronkite and progenitor or Colbert.
To capture—and gently mock—that “plugged-in” spirit, Danceworks turned to the talented songwriter Jason Powell, who parodized the hits of iconic ‘80s bands, including The Cure, The Talking Heads, Robert Palmer, a Europop synth group I couldn’t exactly pinpoint, and a high-school classroom number that could have stood in for any number of the era’s Breakfast Club-style “Hot for Teacher” scenarios.
Powell is a clever wordsmith, and he was at his best when he hewed closely to the original songs, even while twisting the lyrics into something original and timely. “Consumer Frenzy,” the show’s finale, turned The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” into a parody of the era’s rampant consumerism (“This ain’t no clearance! This ain’t no discount!”).
The DPC company was in fine form in Powell’s sketches, acting the part of gleeful high-schoolers or lipsticked automaton accessories (all choreographed by Dani Kuepper). But the program also gave the dancers a chance to step out on their own—some more serious than others. A well-moussed and spandexed Melissa Anderson played perfect pixie robot in “Rip It, Burn It, Drag It, Drop It.” Joelle Worm took inspiration from cooking shows and infomercials in a pair of short pieces. A club dance floor came alive in Kim Johnson’s “Ocular Sound.” And Johnson also performed a more serious-minded solo that seemed to reflect on the power of silence.
Worm also was behind the “choreographic structure” for a free-form exploration of the intersection of hip-hop and modern dance, which featured guest dancers Richard Brasfield, Rasheeda Panniell and Samantha Patrick. Tyrone “DJ Bizzon” Miller provided the electronic beats live onstage, and the whole ensemble joined in in a sort of follow-the-leader structured improvisation.
The highlight of the evening, however, was perhaps the simplest dance on the bill. After drum-miming her way through the opening Eurotrash song parody, Christal Wagner remained as the music slipped into the electro-minimalism of Dawn of Midi. Wagner built a dance brilliantly around the repetitive structure, juggling motifs with mathematical precision—repeating, turning 90 degrees, repeating again. Some of the content was cool and mechanical, some of it was aggressive and hot. And Wagner found a kind of call-and-response humanity in the shifting moods. Here, less was obviously more—a snapshot of human experience captured in the most economical motion.
“Plugged In” continues this weekend, and then returns for a weekend of performances on May 8th.