Hope Stone's WRECK-WE-UMMM : A Refreshing Take on Life Set to Mozart's Swan Song

Check out our 100 Creatives interview with WRECK-WE-UMMM dancer JoDee Engle.

The setup:

With a penchant for youthfulness and more than a flourish of yellow, Hope Stone Dance Company invites you to its playdate with premier talent from Houston's dance, theater and music scenes in Lemonade Stand 2012: WRECK-WE-UMMM.

The execution:

The black box theater in the Houston Ballet Dance Center was well-prepared to host the birthday party of a child whose favorite color was most definitely yellow. Yellow balloons floated idly in a corner of the stage, while small yellow chairs and a yellow kiddie pool sat patiently on the stage flooded in yellow light. And there was I, seated on a floor mat next to a nine-year old girl wearing a bright yellow dress. She wasn't part of the set herself, but she might as well have been.

The show began, and it wasn't long before I heard giggling from the young girl to my right. On the stage sat a woman reading a paper and sipping a glass of water, surrounded by a half-dozen dancers eager to squeeze a lemon or turn a page for her on her command. We watched and giggled together, amused by this ordinary task exaggerated to the point of absurdity.

This became a theme of the evening. Pencils were sharpened repeatedly, hair was adjusted frequently (and usually in unison) and clichés were batted around by a trio of actors. Walking in sandals became a percussion instrument, and the entire cast spent a dozen seconds bunched together, staring longingly at the audience.

In each of these moments, something ordinary was presented loudly or slowly enough that it became something extraordinary; in these moments, we were asked to revisit something previously taken for granted. This was a dose of imagination in its purest form.

Despite its childlike aesthetic, this show was far from juvenile. Set to Mozart's Requiem, Weiner's choreography explored the clumsiness, fluidity and intimacy of relationships, most poignantly in duets between Courtney Jones and Candace Ratliff and between Brit Wallis and Jesus Acosta, the latter set against a column of couples shyly gesturing to one another.

Cardboard signs filled with "bucket list" items conjured up images of signs held by drifters on street corners, and the careful movements of a foot-and-a-half-tall puppet, crafted and managed by puppeteer Kevin Taylor, had a humanness and grace that transcended its novelty as a prop.

WRECK-WE-UMMM was also an experiment in multi-group collaboration. By and large, this was a very successful experiment: Houston Met's dancers executed Weiner's movement superbly, Mercury's Ana Trevino-Godfrey and Jonathan Godfrey provided beautiful accompaniment to the movement, and Taylor's puppeteering was certainly a highlight of the show. Additionally, it was clear that these groups had a wonderful time performing together, and their combined energy electrified the audience.

However, there were places where this collaboration fell a bit short. The actors' scenes were entertaining, but they seemed slightly disconnected from the dance-dominated rest of the show. The Houston Ballet dancers, while technically sound, appeared uncomfortable with Weiner's heavily grounded movement. Also, while collaborative energy is generally productive for a show, it can also be risky -- there's a thin line between having a wonderful time onstage and forgetting to include the audience in your fun, and it was one that this cast toed on occasion.

This show, set against a piece of music so closely associated with death, challenges us to cherish our lives and suggests doing so by applying our imagination to the (seemingly) ordinary. Its youthful aesthetic is simply a suggestion for how to approach the world -- borrow the perspective of a nine-year old, and you might just find yourself giggling at the simplest of things. The verdict: WRECK-WE-UMMM is not just an argument for creativity but also a refreshing demonstration of creativity at its peak. This collaboration among some of the brightest artists in Houston is simultaneously fun and thoughtful, youthful and mature. Relative to its few hiccups, WRECK-WE-UMMM has a plenitude to offer audiences of all ages, backgrounds and bucket lists.

See WRECK-WE-UMMM at 8 p.m. through August 11 at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance, 601 Preston. For information, visit the company's website or call 713-526-1907. $20.

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Alex Randall
Contact: Alex Randall