The fact that the blog Regretsy has an entire section of its website entitled “That’s Not Speampunk” is a sign that while it may be having a “moment,” there’s also a wide swath of this Victorian-meets-sci-fi genre’s fan base that doesn’t quite get it, often with hilarious results.
So, as I walked into the GALATheater for MOVEius Dance’s first fully produced, full-length show, Flight of Fancy (A Steampunk Ballet), I was filled with a giddy sense of anticipation and a hunch that the production’s success would be partly dependent on how seriously it took itself.
As it turned out, it doesn’t take itself that seriously at all. As colorful and saccharine-sweet as cotton candy, this whimsical show is actually a really pleasant way to spend an hour hiding from the District’s oppressive humidity. Watching this show unfold filled me with more joy than I ever expected to get from watching ballet – and not just because I could silently sing along with the many of the songs on the indie-rock-heavy 14-track score.
The story itself is uncomplicated and not particularly original: A stuffy society is brought slowly out of its drab routine by a whimsical outsider – in this case, a woman named the Aviator. Soon, they’ve left behind their staid black blazers and rigid single-file formations for a sea of lacy pastels and exuberant dance circles (if you try not to the think about the fact that they’ve all become uniformly content by conforming to this new version of happiness and individuality, you’ll enjoy it a lot more).
That being said, you’d have to be made of stone to not smile as the dancers, bearing headlamps and tiny flashlights taped to their thighs and upper-arms perform in otherwise complete darkness to “No Cars Go” by Arcade Fire, transforming momentarily into a human disco ball. And, as I type this review on my laptop in a vegan café, I can’t help but think back to the scene during which the Aviator breaks a young woman free from the shackles that tie her to her typewriter with a not-so-slight twinge of longing.
As for the actual quality of the dancing, you’ll have to ask someone who knows more about the form than I do. But to my mind, if you’re an individual for whom imperfect technique is a deal-breaker, you may not be the type of person who would enjoy this kind of spectacle in the first place.
There’s a definite DIY vibe to the production in general (I searched the program for a “Costumes by Etsy” mention, but didn’t find one) that mostly adds to its charm – the few exceptions being moments when no one’s on stage and music plays on, when you can see a dancer counting his beats, or a table, which will eventually be danced upon half-collapses.
But, frankly, had the production been completely polished, it likely would have come off as more self-serious than I think it is at heart, which very well could have potentially destroyed the shear escapist joy inherent in it.
So, is Flight of Fancy truly steampunk? Heck if I know. But I will emphatically say that it’s a delightfully fanciful way to spend a sweaty July afternoon – plus, if nothing else, you’ll likely walk away with a few new tunes to add to your Hipster Summer playlist.
Flight of Fancy (A Steampunk Ballet) has 5 performances, ending July 26, 2012 at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St NW, Washington, DC
Details and tickets
John rates this 4 out of a possible 5.