Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
If you didn't read the program notes, you might not have a clue that Morgan Thorson's provocative dance theater piece "Faker" explores "impersonation, obsession, and ritualistic behavior." Overall, it's a bit of a muddle, entertaining but disjunct.
However, you would certainly get that it has something to do with our culture's fixation on celebrity and the shallow artifice that often embodies. The trappings are everywhere - the microphone in the spotlight, the red carpet, a disco ball, fake applause that periodically filters in, and bouquets of red roses, cleverly represented by images on TV monitors. And the fragmentation is deliberate. The self-taught Minnesota-based choreographer/director and her seven-member troupe shift gears on a dime to play with our sense of what is real and what is pretend, what is authentic and what is mere "fakery."
Thorson sets the scene from the moment we enter the theater. It's as if we've come in at the beginning of a rehearsal. Dancers are sprawled on the stage, chatting among themselves. The house lights are up, and there are no visible props. Windows are uncurtained, giving us a stunning view of Boston Harbor. Thorson, wearing blue work coveralls, apologizes for "running behind" and suggests the dancers work on a section of the piece.
But as they go through movement sequences, stopping and starting, arguing over details, the rehearsal gradually morphs into performance. By the time the curtains come down over the windows, the lights dim, and bits and pieces of Elvis tunes come over the speakers, we're full in.
As Elvis croons "Suspicious Minds," the score gets stuck on "caught in a trap," stuttering and echoing as Kristin Van Loon repeatedly traverses a corridor of light, her phrases broken into isolated gestures. A quartet works on a separate sequence of grounded lunges, with arms waving and slicing like semaphores, until Chris Schlichting gets fed up. "Whoa, whoa, whoa - this is not what we discussed."
The fabulous Karen Sherman throws herself into a high-energy, irreverent deconstruction of Elvis moves. In her white, high-collar pantsuit, short hair, and ear locks, she brilliantly evokes the King with posturing, swaggering, and gyrating until she collapses in a heap to the faint sounds of canned applause. "Just Pretend" throws her and Van Loon into a hyper duet of jerky punches, leg quivers, and pelvic thrusts, trademark Elvis on warp drive.
At one point, the troupe mimes in front of the monitors, as if trying out the pop star moves they see on TV. But the idea doesn't go far enough - the accompanying excerpt from Beethoven's Ninth proves more compelling than the action onstage.
Then we see celebrity gone haywire, as Sherman seems to have a meltdown in front of our eyes in a frantic solo of wild isolations, arms and legs flailing, body twitching, stopping occasionally to play to the audience. The funniest moment in the piece is when Schlichting joins her for an impressive vocal rendition of "Up Where We Belong" - sung with both of them pinned flat to the floor, legs keeping the beat, hands cupping ears, eyes closed earnestly as they gradually work up to standing. And in an inspired bit of symbolism, one dancer seems to inflate another then herself, until both seem merely vapid receptacles of hot air.