SB Dance’s “Of Meat and Marrow” is one of the most creatively fun productions I’ve seen from any local Utah dance company. Two years in the making, it includes an impressive ten-person dance ensemble, live music provided by Totem and Taboo, and some of the most innovative, and at times terrifying, props I’ve ever seen.
Created by Stephen Brown (the SB in SB Dance), who refers to his carefully choreographed chaos as a “rock opera dance circus,” the production aims to provide a slightly naughty, slightly nude, sexy Halloween happening for adults.
The show opens with a “hellaciously” bad joke by head honcho “Bob Hopeless” (Jeffrey Berke) that catapults us straight to “that place down below” — the one reputed to have the fire and brimstone decor and wretched skiing. There we find several corpses, including that of the sinuous Juan Carlos Claudio, curled on an autopsy table, being manhandled or broken by several of the other denizens. But these aren’t ordinary autopsy tables: they roll, spin, and dance seemingly of their own volition, often threatening to leave the netherworld’s inhabitants even more dead than they already appear to be.
Soon, Jane Q. Doe (Annie Kent) arrives, protesting, as one might expect, that some mistake has been made and she doesn’t belong here. However, after a brief quiz on her rather limited good deeds while alive, it appears her fate is sealed. More pertinent, however, is why anyone would choose to be eternally bored sitting on a cloud playing a harp when it’s just so much more fun in the underworld. Sure, there’s the occasional torture and the gut churning “food.” But how could anyone resist a fashion-forward Hades where even the dingy garb adheres to the current high-low fashion standard?
SB Dance knows how to make the most of every dancer and every prop. Autopsy tables become dance venues, menacing stalkers, and light reflectors. They also serve to “disembody” dancers who at times appear headless or missing other body parts. Mylar serves as costumes, hiding places, a giant monster, and another variant of light reflector. And the gigantic, heavy, whirling spinning “jack” of a steel sculpture would no doubt hold its own in a medieval torture museum. All this movement is accented by Stefanie Slade’s impressively eye-popping, precarious lighting. And then there’s the equally unusual and impressive live music, featuring the spookily lovely “Mad Meg” (Vanessa Angulo) whose voice, costume, and delivery fit the show perfectly.
Of particular note is that while “Of Meat and Marrow” is an intensely athletic show, requiring the type of acrobatic balance and split-second timing most often associated with the circus, several of the dancers are not youngsters, but rather alumni of some of Salt Lake’s better known professional companies, adding depth to the ongoing insanity.
So does Jane repent? Is she restored to the living, packed off to the pearly gates, or does she live a Persephone-like existence split between the underworld and life? To find out, you may just have to wait until next year’s show. And that may well be the most devilish torture of all!
SB Dance returns in December with their WTF fundraiser, in January with “The Little Beast of SB Dance” and also sponsors “Cultural Confidential: conversations about art and society” and Sporty Yoga Monday nights. For more information, see http://sbdance.com/.
Sarah Thompson is a retired physician and psychiatrist, as well as a writer and a fan of the arts. Her writing has been published in a variety of magazines and textbooks and she is currently working on a short story and a novel.