Featuring: Jeff Raz and Diane Wasnak, SoVoSó, Natasha Kaluza, Fleeky Flanco, David Poznanter
Running time: 120 minutes
When: 7 p.m. December 7, 2 and 7 p.m. December 8, 2 p.m. December 9, 2018
Where: Hammer Theatre Center, 101 Paseo De San Antonio, San Jose
Tickets: $15-$50. Visit http://holiday-joy.com or call 408-924-8501.
with 'JOY!' from Tandy Beal
Bring together two clowns, some acrobats, and a host of dancers, and you have a circus. Throw in an a capella group and you get “JOY!,” Tandy Beal & Company’s holiday production.
This season, JOY! opened in Santa Cruz, where the company has been creating original performances that blend dance, theater, circus, and music for the last 44 years. This year was no different. Families in the San Francisco Bay Area have come to expect the promise of a good time for their kids. The cast of characters brings ageless family-friendly humor. The show continues this weekend in San Jose.
The performances began a few minutes before the opener, with Cirque du Soleil soloists Pino (Diane Wasnak) and Razz (Jeff Raz) moving through the theater as people were settling into their seats. Faces painted and dressed in bright clown garb, they shook hands and mimed like it was home. Seeing everyone settled, the powerhouse duo, as orchestrators of a cartoonish strain, raised life-sized music notes to cue in the a capella group, SoVoSó. The seamless integration of live music and props set the tone for the rest of the show.
SoVoSó is very much part of this circus, lending their versatile vocals to offer rhythmic renditions of Michael Jackson, R&B, and holiday classics, and mimicing mental chatter. They are at once stars of the stage and background characters, remixing scores to create the illusion of seamlessness that makes a jump-rope routine-turned-magic trick seem as normal as breathing.
But with clowns in the room, nothing is quite normal. Razz and Pino bring classic tricks of their trade, from balancing a full-sized ladder to riding a bicycle backwards. Together, they are an entertaining duo, but each can stand on his or her own by sheer technical talent and natural expansiveness. Their silliness is contagious — they pull red clown noses out of children’s ears during intermission and seep into dance numbers. But wherever they appear, they belong. Their appearances don’t get less distracting over time, and that is the mark of true showmanship and the deep attention that each moment of the show intentionally commands.
The acrobatic acts are especially captivating.
Fleeky Flanco contorts in, around, and through a metal pipe measuring about a third of his height and with just enough width to fit his body, folding over itself. Fleeky then returns with a tower of blocks, which he rearranges with his legs comfortably slung over either shoulder. There is unwavering strength, if some seriousness and uneasiness, though SoVoSó’s accompanying Michael Jackson music lightens the mood.
Then there’s David Poznanter on the cyr wheel, in animal print pants. And Natasha Kaluza (“The Super Duper Hula Hooper”) who progresses from one hoop to two hoops to a slinky.
Awe moves readily into nervousness and quickly to loud laughter.
At one point, a beautiful trio of dancers moves with simultaneous strength and softness along elastic ribbons. The choreography to this modern dance piece is simple and repetitive, but the three dancers perform it with such concentrated contemplation that focus seems to morph into respect for ritual. Some tailless ribbons unspool to stretch across the stage, against a plain white wall in dimmed lights. We forget for a moment what kind of show we’re watching, then Pino breaks the trance when she hobbles across stage balled up in ribbon, an eager fourth dancer.
Though Pino does perform in a gender-bending duet with Razz, the rest of the dancing is left to the cast’s seven core dancers, each showcasing formal training in contemporary, ballet, and hip hop, while also showcasing their adventurous foray into another’s style, as they did in an upbeat hip hop number.
JOY! is not a holiday story but an expression of the season’s spirit, so it is nearly free of any holiday artifacts. “O Holy Night” is as close as it gets. The company’s founder, choreographer, and namesake Tandy Beal emerges at the center of a large, diaphanous cloth that stretches and flows like the night sky. The dancers, donning spectacularly sparkly headpieces, circle her like stars. Each performer is unique. Together, joy.
In this eclectic production, Tandy Beal & Company heralds a momentary redefinition of the holidays that is captured well in the lyrics of its curtain-closing cover of Sly & The Family’s 1970s soul hit song, “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin.”