From a primordial darkness, fluorescent,
skeletal figures stalk forward. Glowing green, they take the shape of snakes, of sea creatures and of dinosaurs, dancing across a blacked-out stage.
It's just engineering, not a mishap with a hallucinogen: Flexible electroluminescent wires are sculpted and attached to dancers clothed in black. Through jetés and rond de jambes, performers pantomime the life story of Darwin the dinosaur his Frankenstein-and-monster relationship with a mad scientist, his love affair with a fish.
Yep. Surreal. But that's modern dance, whether or not Detroit's seen anything quite like it. Because, face it: Motor City's larger venues tend to be restricted to more classical, tutu-laden fare.
Such avant-garde performances can be expected of the 2007-2008 season at 1,700-seat Music Hall. The variety of companies to perform in metro Detroit expands including, for one, the lovesick Day-Glo dinosaur under the theater's recently appointed president, Vince Paul, and his wife, the theater's dance director Meg Paul, who recently moved here from New York.
"Our theme this year is bringing the world to Detroit," Meg says. "There are all sorts of companies that I don't know if the public has been able to see yet. I want to expose Detroit to the more cutting-edge stuff show them a full spectrum of dance."
So in addition to Darwin, the National Ballet of China, Poland's Mazowsze, Sultana Bellydance Superstars, the flamenco troupe Noche Flamenca and St. Petersburg Ballet will perform. Local and international performers will grace the Music Hall stage in tandem. In next spring's Stars of Ballet and Broadway, members of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and other such touring companies will collaborate with a selection of dancers from local studios.
"The reason I'm able to arrange these performances," she says, "is because through my travels and experience, I've met with ballet royalty and Broadway greats."
Paul, now 40, is herself seasoned: Recruited at age 15 by the prestigious Joffrey Ballet, she began touring the world as a classical ballerina, completing high school through correspondence courses. Later in her career, she assisted in launching the Broadway musical Movin' Out, performing both leading roles, setting the touring cast and auditioning performers.
She and her husband also ran World Art, a dance production company that managed the touring schedules of several renowned dance troupes, such as Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Les Ballets African. So one might ask, with this worldwide exposure, why Detroit?
"My husband, Vince, is a native Detroiter," she says. "So we were out here, touring, and Sandy Duncan, the former president, asked Vince to apply."
She says that after three months of intense interviewing, her husband got the job.
"It was time for a change," Meg says. "We'd both been in New York about 25 years, and the opportunity to run Music Hall was too interesting to pass up."
However, she admits the atmosphere in metro Detroit's dance community is rather different from the East Coast.
"I think that and I only speak on Music Hall's behalf for a long time, dance wasn't very well attended. Everything's so spread out."
Meg drove around to different studios, introducing herself, seeing what kinds of dance were being performed in and around Detroit.
"I feel as though we dancers need a support system here," she says. "We all need to be a part of it to keep dance present, but people have to know something about it."
She began collaborating with Christopher Leadbitter, for instance, formerly of the internationally recognized Les Ballets Trockadero and currently the founder and choreographer of the local dance troupe Causing a Scene.
Leadbitter says that the measures undertaken by the Pauls particularly the shows that incorporate local talent give an outlet to performers so they don't have to move away.
"Right now, if you're 18, once you graduate high school there's nothing for you, as a dance or theater artist, to help pay the bills." Leadbitter says, "You either have to teach, or leave for a city like New York, San Francisco or Chicago, to fulfill your dream of being an artist. But Meg and Vince are trying to create options."
Indeed, Leadbitter's company is headlining this season's Fringe Fest at the Music Hall. His opus extraordinaire? "The Amazing Adventures of Hansel and Gretel in the Apocalyptic Cabaret of Life."
Music Hall is located at 350 Madison St., Detroit; 313-963-2366. Visit www.musichall.org for this season's schedule.
Meghana Keshavan is Metro Times listing editor. Send comments to [email protected]