MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet is a buffet of sequins
by Drew Rowsome
The cast lines the front of the stage, grouped around the benevolent Buddha-esque den mother ringleader Ryan G Hinds, and, in an A Chorus Line-lite set of confessions, talk directly to the audience about their perceptions of love and lust. One is coolly calculating, one is promiscuous (gay male division), one is shy and vulnerable, etc. Revelations revealed, characters established, they retreat, one-by-one, to the shadows to stretch for the dancing to come. Hinds takes centre-stage and pronounces,
I believe love is unstoppable. And so is lust. Lust is like when you're at the Mandarin buffet and you're on your eighth plate and you think . . . dessert.
It gets a good laugh, one that will choke in our throats (again, much like the Mandarin buffet) later on, and MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet kicks into gear. Each dancer expresses physically what they expressed verbally. Some of the dancing is powerful, particularly Raya Facey and Cheryl Chan, some of it is cringe-inducing mime as when, channelling Céline Dion, a heart is ripped from the chest and offered to the audience. A brief group repetition of the individual movements and the first act is over.
The second act is packed with sight gags - the first appearance of the mixed gender ballerinas is exuberantly delightful - and slathered in sequins. There seems to be a storyline of a macho disco dancer, Hinds, wooing and dumping the stunningly lithe and energetic Nicole Rose Bond. And yes the melting cake makes a celestial appearance. The dark side of disco is explored by, naturally, the promiscuous one (a compelling Dylan Shumka-White) and it is hysterically funny when frenetic Shakeil Rollock (who really should have been given a chance to strut his formidable stuff) forms a giant line of cocaine and turns it into a water slide.
More sequins, more costume changes and just about every disco cliche is thrown on stage to see what will keep the momentum going. There is also a delicious subtext of parodying '70s variety show dance numbers, where a hapless guest star is surrounded by glitz and gams, and the terror of failure to entertain they contained. The cast perfectly captures the precise moves, grimacing smiles and blank frightened eyes of the masters of the art, The June Taylor Dancers or Carol Burnett's The Ernest Flatt Dancers.
We seem to be being set up for a Mark Morris moment where body image stereotypes are shattered but instead we are treated to cheap jibes in the style of Fanny Brice/Barbra Streisand's ugly duckling Swan Lake satire from Funny Girl. But there are more sequins to come (and must-have "I Heart Donna" tank tops) before a finale that aims for Busby Berkeley and achieves Casino Rama. MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet is diverting and in may places charming, but as in the schematic design of the Giorgio Moroder/Donna Summer collaborations, the heart and soulfullness of the vocals/dance are subordinate to the beat and search for novelty.
The music is indeed glorious and any chance to hear Donna Summer at full volume is to be savoured.
MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet continues until Wed, Aug 12 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St as part of the SummerWorks Festival. summerworks.ca