Magnetic North Theatre Festival: Dance Marathon toe-tapping fun

Audience members add to the story by signing up to show off their moves

If you’re curious about seeing Dance Marathon but worried about having to sit through a four-hour show, don’t be. For starters, you won’t be sitting down.

Dance Marathon makes its audience literally dance with joy.

This unusual participatory audience piece put on by Bluemouth Inc. of Toronto made its mark at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival this year, seeming to have a mission to make its audience move and be moved.

The Olympic Community Hall on the corner of Clifton and Cunard streets in Halifax turned into a magical place Wednesday night as people of all ages gathered to shuffle their feet and show off their most daring dance moves in an immersive performance in which audience members add to the story, becoming characters when they sign up as contestants.

The production is inspired by the dance marathon events popularized during the Great Depression, when desperate people would turn into dance partners, competing with other couples and their own stamina to be fed and for their chance at fame and fortune in shows lasting weeks or months on end.

Though those performances resembled sleepwalking, with partners slouching and sometimes nodding off on the other’s shoulder, Dance Marathon is a performance with no lack of pizazz. If anything, it was an invigorating and humanizing experience.

Put in the position of some friendly competition, all barriers broke down as you began the evening dancing with a stranger, performer or attendee, as both of you busted out your best moves.

Eliminations were intermittent, as the audience members became united in vying to win an unknown prize. New dance steps were taught, and beautiful contemporary choreography sneaked into the show each time the “audience” was given a break.

Screens showing psychedelic videos, cameras capturing overall movement as well as a specific character’s actions, and lighting techniques made you feel like you were at a rave, an elementary school dance and part of performance art all at the same time.

The live music was enlivening and engaging. Halifax breakdancers Flash Crew did stalls and slides to the sound of big band.

Infused with poetry and intensely introverted monologues, the performance was a multi-layered, multi-sensory experience. You experience a lot before you’re cut from the competition, and elimination is left up to luck.

Part of Bluemouth’s creative mandate is asking its audience what level of experience they are committed to having. In the context of this piece, it’s safe to say it stretches this to see exactly how much the audience will endure and how much they are willing to be entertained.

So shrug off the overwhelming idea of a four-hour performance and strap on your dancing shoes. You have two nights left to enjoy the show — tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Olympic Community Hall. Admission is $16-28.


Originally published in The Chronicle Herald

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