Chris March’s Butt-Cracker Suite
Chris March bowls them over with his ’Butt-Cracker Suite’
Pity the Southern redneck. He lives in occupied territory (for him, the "War Between the States" ended in a draw). He’s the butt of jokes in popular media. his cultural milieu is alternately ignored and reviled by the chattering classes, when they bother to notice it at all.
Just in time, the extraordinarily inventive Chris March has taken the trailer-trash concept and elevated it to, if not exactly High Art, the realm of the etherial. Chris March’s Butt-Cracker Suite gives us yet another reinvention of the Tchaikovsky ballet that has become as synonymous with Christmas as Dickens’ "Christmas Carol."
As someone who avoids reality shows like the plague, I wasn’t aware of March’s talents as a costume designer. So the ultra-fabulous outfits worn by the five very game lissome female dancers who form the corps de ballet here came as a genuine revelation. Simply put, this is the most fun assemblage of camp creations since the 1996 off-Broadway revue "When Pigs Fly."
If you are unlucky enough to have missed that show thus far, you can still fly (or take the subway) down to the Here Arts Center in Soho, where this show is playing through Dec. 29. Why the theater isn’t full of seats is anyone’s guess.
A scathing review in the Times (two, if you take the dismissive reference by the "newspaper of record’s" senior dance critic into account) certainly didn’t help. But during the magical 90 minutes or so when I was transported by March’s designs and Ben Franklin’s choreography, I found myself wondering -- not for the first time -- whether the sour and dour Times reviewer had seen the same show I was witnessing.
Where David Rooney saw only derivative numbers connected to other works, I saw glorious tribute. I think it was Sir Isaac Newton who said that, if he saw further, it was only because he was standing on the head of giants. March might only be standing on the heads of pop-culture icons like John Waters and ’60s commercials (and ouch to them; March is nothing if not outsized); but he takes these bits of pop Cheese Whiz and makes them Art.
When I see a show like this (Lypsinka also comes to mind), I have to marvel at how many hours the creator must have spent scouring old record bins and out-of-the-way videos to find the gems he brings back to life. Among the glorious bits of pop trivia scattered here and there like fairy dust are a Ronettes’ type tribute to Jews owning Christmas, as well as beloved gems like the redneck anthem "Tequila," which March and Franklin stage as an homage to Pee-Wee Hermans’ ineffable rendition on top of a table in a roadhouse.
That’s only the beginning of the reveries experienced by March’s character, a Baby Huey-Honey Boo Boo mash-up. Exiled from his family’s trailer by Mom and Dad’s mid-afternoon dalliance, this Clara of the Clamptons (that’s a "Beverly Hillbillies" reference; look it up) falls into her own dream of a Nutcracker Prince.
The libretto, as it were, weaves in and out of the original ballet. There’s the battle with the Mouse King. The Nutcracker emerges as a handsome prince. All ends in the apotheosis of Clara’s coming of age. But instead of Chinese figures; the Mother Gigone with her progeny emerging from beneath her dress; and a sensuous Arabian dance, here we get dancing bowling pins; black-lit, back-dancing flamingos; and even a Hasidic line dance.
The original music weaves in and out as well, punctuated and punctured by all that off-the-wall music that March somehow dug out of the dustbin of pop detritus. But we know we’re in the Land of Sweets, thanks to an eye-popping cavalcade of Twisters, candy bars and bubble gum. And, oh yes, there’s a magic tree that grows bigger than life-size, here in the form of one of those car-scent pine thingies that dangle from every other New York taxi. Suck it, New York City Ballet!
The dance of the Spam cans alone would be worth the price of admission. But there’s so much more. Kudos to those five game gals, who keep reappearing from various vistas, including the inevitable beer-repository refrigerator on the front lawn. The two male dancers, Michael Dauer and Joshua Dean, do heavy lifting, including some nice male-male partnering.
I just can’t say enough good things about this production. Tchaikovsky’s ballet has had numerous adaptations in recent years. But none have been as inventive, or as fun, as this one.
Just go see it, OK?
"Chris March’s Butt-Cracker Suite" runs through Dec. 29 at Here Arts Center, at 145 Sixth Avenue. It’s at Dominick Street in Soho, a block south of Spring Street. (It’s slightly to the west, so if you’re looking at the God’s Love We Deliver Center, keep your eyes going; it’s not that easy to find. Take the C or E trains to Spring Street.) Tickets are available at the theater after 5 p.m. on show days, or by calling 212-352-3101 or www.here.org.
Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).