"At Last" Leaves a Memorable Missive

There are only four quatrains of lyrics in “At Last,” a blues song made popular by Etta James, but performers in the HRDC production of “At Last” parsed the sparse lines into bits, scribbling words with chalk onto the black walls and floor of the Loeb Ex. The production, a plot-driven dance show that played that until May 4, invited engagement in each storyline by staging the dances in, around, and above a standing, wandering audience. Though some of the staging choices made by director and choreographer Hazel A. Lever ’13 seemed superfluous, her overall clever staging and the agile, accessible movements of the performers made the whole show incredibly enjoyable.

Backed up by six musicians playing an equal parts sultry and adventurous score composed by Danielle G. Rabinowitz ’14, the performance was reminiscent of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, with the careful, intentional movements of the performers accompanying corresponding musical riffs and instrumental dialogue. As two girls (Mariel N. Pettee ’14 and Madison M. Dildine ’16) flirted on a park bench, their angular, shy twitching and fitful smiles were enhanced by by a jazzy, spunky section of music. One of the most impressive parts of the show, Rabinowitz’s score propelled the various plotlines and maintained an incredible level of energy throughout the production.

Since each storylines was so different, it was particularly remarkable that the music was able to evolve with and enhance the relationships being portrayed on stage. Some parts felt like a play off of “Cell Block Tango” from the musical “Chicago,” with four of the female dancers (Sofie A. R. Seymour ’15, Nina M. Yancy ’13, Melanie J. Comeau ’13, and Talia M. Fox ’13) up on the balcony, emoting the same anguish over an unfaithful lover (Kevin Shee) through synchronized dance moves. Each female dancer wore a button-down shirt, presumably from the same man they had all encountered, and the scene started out as individual morning-after moments, until the performers seemed to realize their hurt and anger, and then began to mirror each other’s movements.

Lever’s choice to have each of the dancers wear the same shirt was emotional, and felt like the narrative was reaching for a more substantial statement about relationships. Other choices, however, seemed a bit forced. For example, the one singer in the production, an incredible vocalist named Page Axelson, interrupted the scenes three times to sing a slightly different rendition of “At Last.” The first time was moving, and set the mood and theme of the play quite well. The second rendition, complete with an obligatory cigarette and glass of scotch, felt forced, and though Axelson belted the lyrics through pent-up frustration and sarcastic head tosses, the intended reinterpretation of the words in the song was confusing and seemed to overtly herald what was otherwise a carefully chosen progression of scenes and climactic dances. Each of the couples’ interactions, whether it was the charming, smitten boy (Matthew W. G. Walker ’16) and disinterested girl (Yancy), or the sexy, almost matador dances of Comeau and Ivo B. Baca ’13, felt so honest and engaging. However, the decision to focus the beginning and the end of the performance on the unfulfilling narrative of the unfaithful lover and cast-aside girlfriend (Fox) felt odd when compared to such a varied and important selection of scenes.

This is not to say that the few confusing choices took away from the rest of the production. Rather, the rest of the show was incredibly meaningful and impressively fluid from the moment that the audience stumbled into the theater. Immediately the performers were invested in their parts, and each wrote a certain section of the lyrics repeatedly throughout the space, only to erase, revise, and rewrite the lyrics at different points throughout the show. Though the theatergoers stood inches from some of the performers, the performers themselves did not flinch but rather kept in character, even when ushering the clumsy audience out of the way when, as occurred several times during the performance, the raised platforms had to be rolled to a different location, often exactly where the audience had been standing seconds before.

All of these movement went on without a hitch, and what could have been a disorienting attempt at immersion succeeded fantastically. The warm toned, practical lighting by Joseph R. Seering ’13 indicated where the audience was supposed to turn, though often multiple stages in the couples’ relationship took place at the same time. There were breakups on the left, a besotted duo on the right, and playful friendly interactions behind. The varied relationships reached a climax at one moment in the middle of the production when all nine performers herded the audience into one group and danced around them, chant-like and circular as the lights narrowed on the unsuspecting theatergoers. The message was clear; relationships are all-consuming, emotional, and there’s no way to avoid the glaring reality of love.

—Staff writer Virginia R. Marshall can be reached at virginiarosemarshall@college.harvard.edu.

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