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FRAULEIN MAIRA danced by Doug Elkins and Friends

Doug Elkins and Friends delight in ‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’ take-off

Roy Berko

(Member, Dance Critics Association)

As evidenced by ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA,’ his take-off of the musical THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which was recently presented by DanceCleveland at the Hanna Theatre, Doug Elkins may well be the crown prince of comic dance choreography.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a stage musical based loosely on the von Trapp family who escaped Europe at the onset of World War II after being harassed by the Nazis. The musical is inspirational, fairly serious and contains Rogers and Hammerstein’s usual social message of what it means to be part of a community.

Elkins in noted for deconstructing and then reconstructing concepts.  THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a perfect vehicle for him, for, in fact, the musical is about the various phases of construction.  Maria, flees to the abbey in order to escape from her life and build a new persona.  When she comes to the von Trapp she takes on a dysfunctional family, deconstructs it and then makes it anew.  The same process happens when the family flees Austria to come to America.

You’ve seen the movie?  You’ve seen the play?  Now, picture the goings-on as envisioned by Elkins.

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”  You think attending a dance concert is a passive experience? Not in Elkins’ creative hands. You will–yes, you will–take part by singing “Do-Re-Mi,” in three-part harmony.

The dance, itself, is introduced by Richard Rogers. Well, it’s a spotlight on the center of the stage which represents the song writer and is supplemented by a tape recording of the great man, who probably rolls over in his grave every time Elkins and Friends does a take off on his beloved musical score.

Since the story takes place in the hills of Austria, we need hills. These are created by dancers encased in and waving green and tan strips of fabric. A snow-capped mountain is formed by Elkins (who not only choreographed the performance but dances in it as well) leaping off the stage, snatching a white shawl off the shoulders of a woman in the front row, running back onto the stage and tossing it on top of one of the hills.  Voila, snow! This is done while hip hop, classical ballet, contemporary and modern dance, martial arts moves and improvised maneuvers are exploding on stage to the entire score from the musical.

Then there is Maria, the singing nun turned nanny, turned dressmaker, turned mommy, who is simultaneously performed by three dancers, one a male, of course, in a dress.

Elkins is not your usual run of the mill choreographer. He started his performance life as a B-boy, a break dancer who toured the world with groups like the New York Dance Express and Magnificent Force. And, with that background, as you watch the madcap antics on stage, you will surely note that his work is inventive, eccentric and compelling.”

Even Elkins’ choice of dancers is not traditional. While most dance companies go for thin woman and muscle toned males, Elkins favors sturdy, often fleshy men and women, with lots of power. There’s nothing exotic, about this company, but, they are talented. And, as can be expected, their backgrounds don’t fit the usual company description.

Even the curtain call was fun.

Capsule judgement: . ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA’ was an evening of dance not to be missed! Too bad Elkins has announced that this is the last go around for this program.  No, no,  say it isn’t so. Let’s hope that Pam Young, Executive Director of DanceCleveland, can convince Elkins to change his mind and bring the production back again and again.