14th of July 2012


“The Private Life of Chickens” grew out of its creator Scott Lyons’s decision to give up his vegan diet.  Rumor has it the project was also, in whole or part, his Master’s thesis in dance.  If this is in fact the case, don’t even get me started on diminishing qualifications for a terminal degree in dance!  Lyons’s curiosity about barnyard fowl led to appreciable research and thence this movement theater piece, which alighted upon the stage at Dance New Amsterdam, July 6-7.

Scott Lyons as Gretta

Basing his piece loosely on the traditional tale of Chicken Little, Lyons and three appealing women performers strut, cluck, and cackle on stage, while an earnest, British news reader (Bradford Scobie) narrates from a video screen.  When Scobie is not eyeing the onstage silliness with a bemused smirk, he taunts the chickens from the screen with a flashlight and pelts the barnyard with rubbery penises from a fast food container.  I guess they don’t make rubber chicken nuggets.  

Lyons, whose background is in theater as well as dance, performs with the intensity of a coltish young actor, combined with the ungainliness of an eager non-dancer, and his lack of inhibition knows no limit.  What he has apparently failed to research sufficiently is how to sustain narrative focus and humor, i.e., when enough of a joke – visual or otherwise – is enough.  

l-r: Anne Bloom, Amii LeGendre, and Lindsay Gilmour

Dressed by Nicole Asselin like whimsically hilarious chickens – hoodies with red crests, white-rimmed, Hollywood starlet sunglasses, plastic raincoats, and bloomers made of upside down T-shirts – Lyons’s cohorts are his greatest assets.  Understated Amii LeGendre is a geyser of wry sarcasm; wide-eyed Anne Bloom is comically clueless; and Lindsay Gilmour with her dancerly legs poses and clucks, in Hurculean efforts at attempting to lay an egg.

Lindsay Gilmour

A mock military/industrial debate generates a few deserved guffaws, when the four hens peck at each other’s policies between doing iterations of a generic dance phrase.  And you can’t help chuckling at the ridiculousness of four grownups dressed up like advertising mascots for a fast-food joint.  

l-r: Gilmour, LeGendre, Bloom, and Lyons

Lyons does build some genuine dramatic tension with the machinations of the barnyard denizens to ward off the impending doom of a falling sky.  But his Julia Child imitation outwears its welcome during the first of its several subsequent reprises.  When the obsession with the sky falling switches to that of laying an egg for the gravy that Gretta (Lyons) intends to slather on some store-bought roasters, the piece loses rigor.  It devolves into “schtick,” like a fraternity party skit, with situation and characters no longer evoking the humor.

l-r: Bloom, LeGendre, and Gilmour

Jay Ryan’s lively lighting is a big plus, and Benjamin Cerf coordinates his sound and video design seamlessly with the live action; a larger TV screen would have made it even more effective.  And let’s not neglect rigging designer Scott Parks’s downpour of wafting feathers to eulogize the demise of Mary Beth (Bloom), whom Henretta (LeGendre) – for whatever reason – suffocates with a downy pillow.  Lyons’s character Gretta finally manages to produce a puny little egg from the neck of his inverted-T-shirt groin, which in his enthusiasm, he accidentally smashes. 

photos courtesy of Scott Lyons and Company

© Gus Solomons jr, 2012

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