Things get a little bit messy, literally and figuratively, in Dance Alloy Theater's latest production, Dirty Little Secrets. Dirt flies along with a few lies in two works including the world premiere of Canadian choreographer Marina Harris' "The Three Camilles," at the New Hazlett Theater.
Commissioned by Dance Alloy, "The Three Camilles" is inspired by Alexandre Dumas' famous 1848 novel La Dame aux Camelias; the same story Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata is based upon. The 40-minute modern-dance work re-imagines scenes from the novel that tell the tragic story of Marguerite Gauthier, who falls in love with the young nobleman Armand and is persuaded by his father to give him up to save him from financial ruin. Because Armand doesn't know why she's leaving him, he scorns her. She takes deathly ill, and eventually dies alone of consumption (tuberculosis).
"Like the novel, my work begins on an up note and then slides downhill from there," says Harris. "It has a very sad ending."
Area audiences may remember Harris from her work for Dance Alloy titled "Table of Content" (formerly "Blue Quartet"), which contained a section that memorably employed giant wads of bubble gum.
Harris continues her penchant for the unexpected in "The Three Camilles" by casting three different dancers to simultaneously portray the character of Marguerite. Set to music by composers including Verdi and Bach, the trio of Camilles along with dancer Michael Walsh, as Armand, interpret Harris' version of Dumas' story via choreography she says favors suggestion over literalness.
While there are no scenes in the work featuring wads of gum, says Harris, "Three Camilles" does have elements of humor, including a country scene with sheep, and a scene in which the three Camilles beat their male counterparts with hoop skirts.
Making his Dance Alloy debut in "The Three Camilles" is new company member and former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer Christopher Bandy, in the dual roles of Armand's father and a wealthy suitor of Marguerite's.
Bandy, says Dance Alloy artistic director Beth Corning, is adjusting well to the switch from ballet to modern and his new surroundings.
"It's a foreign language ... a completely new landscape to traverse ... a plie is a plie, of course, but how one approaches movement and a very different way of working will take some getting used to," says Corning.
Bandy will also be one of three dancers in Dance Alloy's reprisal of late Swedish choreographer Per Jonsson's masterwork "SCHAKT" (1983). "SCHAKT" employs three beds of loose dirt and three large, vertically suspended metal plates that act as gongs, along with an ominous soundtrack by composer Peter Bengtsson to create an atmospheric and eerie work. In a review of its debut by Dance Alloy, in 2005, I described this 20-minute piece as "the stuff of nightmares" and "a masterpiece that touches nearly all the senses."
"It is a struggle," says Per Sacklen, a former dancer in Jonsson's company who has re-staged the work for Dance Alloy. "There is a lot of resistance in it to break through. It is like living. It demands the dancers be totally present in the work but also reach further into their minds to see something beyond the space they are in."
In performing "SCHAKT," the dancers kick up and toss in the air handfuls of dust and dirt that gets into their mouths, noses and ears. It's an artful mess, and one that area dance audiences should not miss.
Dance Alloy Theater performs Dirty Little Secrets Fri., Dec. 5-Mon., Dec. 8. (The Dec. 5 show includes a complimentary pre-performance meal.) New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $25 ($20 students/seniors); the Dec. 7 show is pay-what-you-can. 412-363-4321 or www.dancealloy.org