We are told in the production notes: “(The Greatest Show on Earth) is a dance theatre exploration of mid-twenties tumult and self-discovery, situated amidst a caricatured world of transient performance artists. This work delves into themes of heartbreak, loss, grief, joy, friendship, queerness, and identity. TRIN’s circus-inspired world, woven together by the performers’ real-life experiences and relationships with one another, walks the line between reality and the fantastical. An absurd, daring, sincere tribute to growing up and the deep bonds of chosen family.”
First of all, one must be very careful about how one titles a show or performance. I understand that this title, “The Greatest Show on Earth” refers to the nod to circus and clowning that is near and dear to the hearts of Trin, however – it can also be construed as an incredible egotistical claim with little regard to other professionals in the field. This also seems like something a mid-twenty-year-old would do.
Trin Dance Theatre is Monica Williams, Tippy Dringman, and Mason Gray with the added energy of Casey Shea, Annalise Gehling and Keilan Stafford. Let us unwrap that program note mentioned just above. The show began with a twenty-minute set-up of the stage with various props and furniture by the performers, with them talking to each other and hugging and being “…transient performance artists” all together. Why, or how, this fell under the heading of “performance” or being at all of interest to the audience is beyond me. It was very much as if someone placed a camera in a student’s dormitory and we were watching all the coming and goings of different friends throughout the evening. Sometimes they stayed and fooled around or danced or smoked, and sometimes they just crashed on the mattress or put on make-up. I wondered if any of the participants were aware of “Pippin” or “Godspell” where many like situations were handled in a more professional manner. I realize that these everyday activities were supposed to be infused with renewed excitement and vigor because of “mid-twenties tumult” but it was all lost on me – perhaps because I am not mid-twenties, whereas most of the audience was and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end.
Much of the choreography was spent in lip-synching á la Tik Toc videos, which was not a problem visually but did not develop into anything needing a theater space in order to be felt and appreciated by the masses. A great deal of the movement was sporadic with short bursts happening and then nothing would transpire while everyone was catching their breath from the aforementioned exertions. When they did engage in unison movement it was very clean and fun and became a show, only to fizzle again into individuals wandering off to sit and smoke or go through a suitcase looking for something fun to wear, or to crash on the mattress upstage center in exhaustion.
Strangely, a couple of the strongest numbers in the show do not have the music listed in the program. These were “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and “Is that all there is?” by Miss Peggy Lee. Both very different in mood and substance they delved into the songs and rhythms long enough to be felt and understood by the audience. One being about love lost and the other an existential take on life and the humor it holds. This one very much like “Pippin” mentioned before as it was performed in clown white facial make-up.
One of the clowning jokes (I hope I have it right) was the classic pie-in-the-face scenario of such masters of the craft as the Three Stooges, Lucille Ball and Laurel and Hardy. One of the performers presents a pie to the others at a table and then the pie is pushed up into that performers face. There was no set-up or scenario that caused it to happen. The reason that the pie-in-the-face schtick was so funny for so long is the set-up. Whoever gets it cannot expect it or know it is coming. This could have been a mere tribute to the classic joke, but it is not enough to just do the thing. There must be context or else it doesn’t work.
There were moments of beauty and fun with large garish movement being juxtaposed with delicate embraces. Sometimes the layered costumes got in the way of the movement. There were many tableaux that worked within the space so that glimpses of a whole dance theater piece were evident but not formed fully enough to actually become a dance theater piece. Sound and costume design by Trin.
It says in the notes that this performance was an “exploration,” and that is exactly what it was. It would be wonderful to see all of it actually coalesce into a dance theater piece.
For more information about Trin Dance Theatre, please visit their Instagram page.
To learn more about Highways Performance Space, please visit their website.
Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Trin Dance Theatre in The Greatest Show On Earth – Screen grab by Patrick Kennedy