Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Dance Dangerously, an audacious new musical experiment by Joe Raciti ’05, lands in LPAC this weekend with a resounding bang. Packing in a dizzying array of concepts, musical styles and meta-commentary, the production’s elements shift kaleidoscopically, resulting in an eclectic mosaic of a whole.
Raciti began writing the musical after taking the Music Department’s Opera class. “I had a vision of the first scene. It’s changed since then, of course…I probably wrote 75% of it over this past winter break.” Raciti is not a formally trained composer, but describes himself as an “intuitive musician.” The story grew organically. “It started with a general idea and some crazy characters infiltrate the plot.” Jeremy Cristol ’05 and Gabe Rogers ’05 also assisted with the script.
Director Ethan Ucker ’07 said “creating a new work has been a very challenging process, and yet an abnormally liberating process…nothing is really set, and we can keep making changes.” The LPAC stage is in its thrust configuration, letting the cast “interface with the audience in a more intimate way,” according to sound designer Dave McCandlish ’05.
The story is a love triangle, revolving around Bella (Tiffany Pao ’06), a dancer, her earnest admirer George (Evan Buxbaum ’06), and Bella’s slick, older boyfriend (Marty Griffith ’05). Bella is given the chance to compete in a major dance competition, but her rival, Jen (Lauren Ianuzzi ’07), will do anything to bring her down. Though this may sound simple, it is only the beginning. The majority of the show is in black and white — all the costumes, all the props, and all the sets. However, color seeps into this monochromatic universe, first in the form of a brightly dressed chorus that haunts Bella and George, and he offers to protect her from “the evil sneaky singing people.” Later, other touches of color are added, representing the characters’ growing confidence in themselves and their resistance to conformity.
But that’s not all. Dance Dangerously has many tricks up its sleeve. Two enormous puppets offer commentary from the balcony. Action spreads into the audience. There is meta commentary from the cast itself. It is a musical thick with ideas and characters, some of whom make brief appearances, disappear for long periods of time and suddenly crop up again. These dramatic hijinks consistently steal the show from the main plot, but the show is never dull. Raciti’s lively score mixes many styles of music, which was orchestrated by Mark Loria ’08 and is performed by a sizable orchestra with Raciti on the piano.
The show’s vernacular has a certain Swarthmore tinge, and the cast attacks the material enthusiastically, including the many eccentric and just weird characters. The dancing is also energetic and eclectic. As for that title? Bella’s dance teacher tells her that to win the competition she must learn to take risks in her dancing, which of course results in a snappy tap dance finale, ending the show on one of its only traditional Broadway notes.