Friday, September 19, 2014
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Review: Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company's 'Oyster'

Dance critic Nancy G. Heller calls Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company's Oyster "60 minutes of sheer delight - jam-packed with slapstick humor, astonishing acrobatic feats, witty visual effects, romance, heartbreak, and music ranging from jazz to Tuvan throat singing."

Review: Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company's 'Oyster'

By Nancy G. Heller
FOR THE INQUIRER

It’s 60 minutes of sheer delight — jam-packed with slapstick humor, astonishing acrobatic feats, witty visual effects, romance, heartbreak, and music ranging from jazz to Tuvan throat singing. Oyster, inspired by a book of poems by filmmaker Tim Burton, is a signature work of Israel’s award-winning Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company. The troupe’s three-day run at the Annenberg Center, which began Thursday, marks the end of its latest U.S. tour.

While each of the vignettes that make up Oyster evokes its own mood, the overall sense of eeriness and androgyny — and especially the dancers’ stark white makeup, fright wigs, and outrageous costumes — are certainly Burtonesque. (Think: Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands, Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice, Helena Bonham Carter in practically anything.) But Oyster also owes a lot to the circus, Federico Fellini, and the cracked sensibility of Edward Gorey.

There’s no linear, identifiable “plot” here, but there are distinctive recurring characters, notably a woman in a bright orange wig, dark tutu, pointe shoes, and a black turtleneck that obscures the lower half of her face. We don’t know who she is or why she has a tiny step stool attached to her rear end. But, because of the performers’ skill and the endless inventiveness of co-artistic directors Pinto, a dancer, and Pollak, a classically trained actor, who create the choreography and design soundscapes, sets, and costumes for all their works, we do wonder about this. We also care about Oyster’s other creatures as they crawl, stagger, shimmy, scuttle, strut, and fly about the stage.

But Oyster isn’t simply a parade of “acts.” There’s regular dancing, too, including a quirky and demanding sequence, performed by six people in tattered black frock coats, that would fit right into the repertoire of any contemporary company. The 12-member cast (which seems much larger) has the astounding physical control, and the comedic chops, to pull it all off.

Much of this piece’s power comes from its wild, complex, and fast-paced sequences. But one of the most affecting moments occurs at the very end, when two women slowly walk upstage, accompanied by sweet, slightly melancholy violin-and-piano music, and appear to dissolve into the back wall of the theater. It is a moment of genuine pathos and unexpected beauty.

***
Additional performances: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-$50. Information: 215-898-3900 or AnnenbergCenter.org.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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