“The Three Bonnies” at the Ritz Theater, Grown Up Dance—A view


by John Munger | 8/6/09 • For nine years of my life I lived in Colorado and got to know some aspects of American Western culture. This show touches on some of these aspects.

The show is about so many things all at once, and it actually weaves them together very powerfully. It is about male-female relationships. It is about people who relate to horses for any of several reasons. It is about some personal choices involving grown-up self-discovery, grown-up relationships, grown-up playfulness, grown-up isolation, grown-up discord and grown-up integrity. I’m stunned that Denise chose to indicate “2+” as the age range because even though everybody keeps their clothes on and nobody drops any F-bombs, this is really a dance show that will be best appreciated by people well past college and seen with perhaps shock and awe by people between 15 and 20.

going through the movements is the blog of john munger, one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet.

I really appreciate this level of work. The dance field in general tries so hard to please grant panels by being outrageously cutting-edge or otherwise unique, to please general audiences by being accessible, to please critics by god knows what and to please fellow-dancers by being inventive and clever within current trends and fashions. This show says “screw it” to all of the above and sets out to tell its own truth.

What an admirable undertaking.

A lot of it works, and I’ll go into why I think it did. Some of it doesn’t and I’ll address that as well.

First, a quick run-down of the show itself. I won’t give anything away that should be withheld for new viewers.

A man and a woman have a meeting. Video footage plays hugely on the cyc behind. There are split rail fences as a set. The two persons are dressed in Western style. The video continues throughout the show and is often excellent. There are interviews on video. Various people, mostly the current dancers, but others as well, talk about finding personal integrity and identity, finding meaningful relationships, failing at all of the above, learning from all of the above, and working it all out.

Enter the women. They are cute, raunchy, self-assured, and assertive.

Next an extended piece for the men. This one is a bit more stereotypic, perhaps because the choreographer is a woman and has self-declared issues. But anyway, they swagger, they lean on the split rail fence, they burp, they urinate, and they stomp with their boots. They also dance damn well. The gals re-enter and some flirty push-pull duets ensue with the gals. I said it. “The gals. “

There is a small masterpiece of a duet between Kelly Radermacher and Cade Holmseth. I’ve already read a number of reviews and comments on this duet and I’ve seen it once or twice before, also with reviews. Reactions have varied widely. What we get is a domestic picture with daily ho-hum, raw lust, tension, fear of each other, hints of abuse, hints of sado-masochism, and the day-to-day necessity of chopping carrots for dinner, dealing with the cat, and living with another human being who may not be what the frog prince is supposed to become. This is accompanied by video of the same situation, sometimes in synch and sometimes not. It is incredibly sexy. In my humble opinion it is a breathtaking piece of work on all levels and a fabulous performance by both dancers, the videographer, the video editor and the choreographer. Others have had other thoughts. I think it’s a masterpiece.

The cowboys and cowgirls return, there are two duets and some ensemble work, all still backdropped with excellent video. The video interviews continue. We are left with the feeling that this is a thoughtful exploration of grown-up issues and that dance, video and everything else are tools to that end.

So that’s the show. I recommend it very highly. But with a caveat. Bear with me now.

There is a quality to the true American West that can be found in some southwestern communities and not in others. For example, Las Vegas mostly does not have it but Tucson does in part. Colorado Springs used to have it but doesn’t any more and Yuma has had it persistently. Tombstone, Arizona, used to have it but has been ruined by tourism. I’ve been to all of these places and lived at length in one of them.

Dude ranches do not really have it, but genuine ranchers (and I know many) do. It is a quality of patience, pragmatism, tough-loving charity, individualism, and an appreciation for some very basic things. These basic things include the power of land to grow food, the power of horses to be fellow-workers, the role of other animals such as sheep or cattle to be resources, the sheer value of land and weather, the potency of sex, pregnancy and future generations (both for humans and for livestock), and the awesomeness of time, both in the moment and as a cycle.

Denise captures this so well from the very outset. There is a quiet and settled feeling to this show. Do not expect snappy multiple pirouettes and guys doing tricks in the air like you might see from international mainstream companies at Northrop. This work is less about pyrotechnic display and more about human honesty. When the cowboys come in and lean on the fence, then do small gestures that are telling, then lean again, it conveys a necessary quality.

And so on. The show honors patience, pragmatism, tough-loving charity, individualism and a number of basic things. It honors them and uses them for material. It expresses them. It is honest work, god bless it.

So we see these qualities throughout the show. I don’t know if Denise has ever spent serious time in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, as I have. Maybe she has. But by the same token, I’m not a horse person, so her connection to horses in this show goes a bit past me. I defer to her better-informed experience. But I do know this. I know that we can talk with each other on similar pages.

That was the good news. The bad news is that this is a dance show, not a calf-roping rodeo contest. This is a theater, not Eastern Colorado. And the caveat, as promised above, is that the patient and time-unaware ethos that Denise evokes so well starts to infect the show itself. About two thirds through, a bit of a time after Kelly and Cade’s fabulous duet, I started to drift for a while. I’m sure there was great dance in there, but I was losing it. If anybody struck a pose with or without the split rail fences I was going to yawn myself to oblivion. Then the final duet between Denise And Carey brought me back. Never mind that it was all authentic and artistically consistent. I needed as an audience member to be jerked around a bit more, just about two thirds through. .

That said, please catch their last two shows either Friday at 8:30 or Saturday at 8:30.

What a joy to see dance that is grown-up and intelligent and watchable. What a precious rarity.

NOTE: This blog does not reflect the opinions or policies of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Dance/USA, nor anyone other than the author. These are purely and utterly my own observations and views.

John Munger (jrmdance@aol.com) has been performing, teaching, choreographing, researching and writing about dance for about 40 years. He teaches at Zenon, day-jobs for Dance/USA, and still hasn’t gotten much of it right.

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