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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Williams's saints go marching in

Do not, do not, do not miss Christopher Williams's The Golden Legend, running now through Saturday at Dance Theater Workshop. Do you need me to say it one more time? Do not!

Sell something, if necessary, and buy a ticket, if you can still snare one.

But be well-prepared for an unusually long, ritualistic night: three hours (including intermission), of which the first half is, without question, the more necessary and the more miraculous. And be prepared for something a lot more like opera than "downtown" dance: high pageantry, larger-than-life characters, lush, imaginative costuming, sacred music and song, performed live to thrill the ear, program notes with almost the size and heft--and contents--of a hymnal. And, of course--as befits a ceremony of martyred Christian saints--simmering eroticism and rampaging violence.

I will fault Williams only for this: falling so in love with the 13th Century legends of his host of male saints that he can't let go of some of them for the sake of the rest. There are a couple of these guys whose sections are winning solely for the sweetness of the puppets (St. Giles's nurturing doe, St. Jerome's injured lion) literally trotted out to interact with them. The second half of the show included too many longish segments that made me glance at the gradually dwindling number of not-yet-occupied saints chairs at the side of the performance space and note that that dwindling number wasn't dwindling nearly fast enough. But, all that aside, there's much to enjoy about this work, and I was knocked out by the large, generous vision of it.

Williams has a cast of often legendary performers to kill for who, naturally, keep getting killed off, one legendary way or another. (You can read the complete list--and much, much, much more--in the program notes. In fact, forget conversing with your friend; you'll need time to study up.) For now, let me just tip my cap to a handful of noteworthy among the saintly company: David Parker, a chipper, childlike St. Thomas of Canterbury dancing among a chorus of executioners; John Kelly, as the anchorite St. Anthony Abbot, beset by tiny, hellish puppets and swishing his hips to the pealing of a bell like some Orientalist's vision of a bellydancer; Jonah Bokaer, handsome St. Sebastian, staggering with a back full of arrows yet nobly pushing back against crotch-rubbing killers who pelt him with words like "cunt" and "sissyboy." These expert players conspire with Williams to bring an affecting humanity to their legendary characters.

Tonight, Dan Hurlin will moderate a post-show talk with the artists. On Thursday, dance critic Nancy Dalva will welcome early-comers to a pre-show Coffee and Conversation at 6:30pm.

Get more information and those all-important tickets here.

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