I have laughed so hard my ribs ached at Vivid Motion's Annual "Nutcracker Burlesque." I gasped and giggled along with the rest of the audience at "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad" last spring. But last night I saw a different side to Vivid Motion. I sat in on the final dress rehearsal of "Thug." And this is a whole different, emotional and beautiful world of dance.
"Thug" is a dramatic dance performance that explores bullying, depression, alcoholism, abuse, addiction... well, the list goes on... And this all occurs through the life of its protagonist, Jacob. With music ranging from classical to country to a fascinating percussion bit performed on binders and textbooks, the music has the variety that only an examination of true life can warrant.
However, "Thug" is not just dance. It's experimental theater mixed with memoir and topped with an intricate smattering of digital art that could be a show all in itself. This is no surprise coming from its multi-talented director, creator and writer, Shea Murphy. Shea is an experienced videographer and digital artist with an ever-growing list of creative endeavors on his plate. It's quite obvious he poured his heart and soul into this show.
Will Ballou in the role of young Jacob is both endearing and heartbreaking. His pained expressions during some of the more tragic moments pull at the audience. There is also an interesting parallel between him and John Larson, the older Jacob. A fascinating exploration of inner child, and the haunting ways our childhood selves never leave us.
Bet Black plays the role of Nadia, tearing her way across the stage converting easily from badass protector of Jacob to a perfect contrasting mother figure to his own flawed mother. Venus Murphy is both comedy and frustration as she moves from a comical dance into being yet another injustice dropped on our troubled Jacob.
Meanwhile the two women playing Jacob and Nadia's mothers in the show (Lynn Knowlton and Becca Skolnik, respectively) each demonstrate the impact of both the torturous events of childhood and the horror that can lurk in the gene pool. Depending on your own experience you may walk away wanting to hug your mother or tell her off. But either way, you'll walk away thinking about her.
There is no way to see everything in a show as busy as this. There are times when halfway through a scene I realized there were words floating on the screen behind the dancers and I wished I'd had a chance to read them all. And a few moments I wished the choreographers had slowed down and let the viewer savor the moment, the pain, the emotion. For that it might even be worth seeing this show twice, so you can catch every beautiful moment and emotion. Because this is a show that will make you feel. Everything.
But, even with its moments of whiplash (perhaps because of them?) it's easily worth more than the $12 admission.
"Thug" runs August 7-10th at the St. Lawrence Arts Center.