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Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks

- Backstage with the Playwrights

This article is sponsored by Skidmore University Without Walls.

Backstage with the Playwrights

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks
(See A Real Dance Studio, You Should Be Dancing)

Starring: Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill
Playwright: Richard Alfieri
Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman

At the
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street
A Shubert Organization Theatre

Producers: Rodger Hess, Marcia Seligson, Entpro Plays, Inc., Carolyn S. Chambers, Sight Sound and Action, Ltd.,
Brantley M. Dunaway, Judy Arnold, and Patricia Greenwald
Boneau/Bryan-Brown Press
Associate Producers: Marilyn Gilbert, Nathan Rundlett,
Etelvina Hutchins, Scottie Held, and Joseph M. Eastwood
Marketing: Leanne Schanzer Promotions, Inc.

Dance Choreography: Kay Cole
Scenic Design: Roy Christopher
Costume Design: Helen Butler
Lighting Design: Tom Ruzika
Sound Design: Philip G. Allen
Additional Casting: Cindi Rush Casting
Production Stage Manager: Jim Semmelman
Technical Supervisor: Larry Morley
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.

November 4, 2003

This is a play about a relationship, but not the average relationship. These two characters, Polly Bergen as Lily Harrison, a 72-year-old widow in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, and Mark Hamill as Michael Minetti, a gay, over the hill, ballroom dance instructor, peel each other like onions. The sets are Pier I Imports styled bamboo with thick cushions, simple kitchen cabinetry, and a rolled rug. The large picture window, overlooking the ocean, contains theatrically effective lighting with sparkling waves, sunsets, and starry skies. Music is scant, such as snippets of Cha-Cha or Beach Boys.

The center of this production is dance, and the two partners, cum antagonists, do a dance around each other that becomes increasingly personal, powerful, provoking, poignant, pathetic, and passionate (in the sense of friendship). Each of the seven vignettes (includes a bonus ending) surrounds one dance form: Swing, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, Contemporary, and the ending piece. Lily has one private lesson/week with Michael, which usually evolves into a psychologically searing look beyond the scope of the partnership into each other's past pain and anguished lives. There is more here than what the average audience may realize, because those of us who have partner dance as an integral life activity know that dance can be therapeutic and provide a nurturing and uplifting oasis from the harshness of the City and the hunger for closeness.

Michael is one angry man, with a need to love and be loved, and Lily is one angry woman, with like needs and desires. This is not a sexually charged partnership, but rather a psychologically charged one, with revelations of family upheavals, illness, death, and destroyed hopes of happiness. There are lighter moments, such as Lily's accidental blurting of her actual age ("If you say your age out loud, your face will hear you", she adds.) There are also the six costume changes, suited to each dance, all of which are appropriate, like the tux and sweeping gown for Waltz and the sport jacket/hat/tie and cocktail dress for Foxtrot.

A lighter, but very annoying and repetitive feature in each vignette surrounds the mystery neighbor, who calls upstairs, as soon as the ballroom lessons begin, similar to the mystery neighbor in Contact. But, Unlike Contact, the dancing is cut too short, and those who wish for one complete dance are left wanting for more. There are also less mysterious characters, who never appear, because they are dead. They are, however, alive in the thoughts and actions of these partners and friends, and their impact on Lily and Michael unfolds in a not too surprising series of conversations and confrontations.

In fact, therein lies the weak link in this otherwise well-constructed work by Richard Alfieri. For whatever reason, I seemed to predict most of the intended surprises in the plot, the twists and turns that should be drawing me in, not filling the blanks. Without revealing these "surprises", the clues were all too obvious, the challenge for the audience too mediocre. Ms. Bergen and Mr. Hamill were superbly cast and exuded the charm and feistiness necessary to carry the seven vignettes. However, I love surprises in the theatre. The unpeeling of pungent pasts seemed a bit too contrived and mellow, although there was one revelation, regarding Lily's family, that reeked of depth and despair and that seemed to generate the watershed moment of understanding and forgiveness, within this tough partnership.

As life imitates art, so too did Lily and Michael Tango to togetherness. The choreography was minimal, and, considering the impassioned nature of the dialogue, I longed for one impassioned dance. Yet, Roy Christopher's creative scenery and Tom Ruzika's sensuous lighting provided a passionate backdrop for this dance of life. Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill deserve a long dance partnership onstage, and, who knows, they may even create a sensational Swing.

If you are involved in theatre or dance, and you would like to get that elusive BA Degree, you might want to explore Skidmore College's University Without Walls, where life experience counts as college credit. You can study in NYC and complete a Skidmore Degree. This opportunity is worth a phone call. Actors and dancers from around the world have graduated from Skidmore's UWW.

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at