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Edisa Weeks— "Elephant Dreams"

by Lori Ortiz
January 25, 2009
Joyce Soho
155 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
212-431-9233
I finally got to one of Edisa Weeks concerts, "Elephant Dreams." There is not a lot of dance in this dance-theater work. But at the Joyce's littler SoHo sister, the more experimental, white-box theater, we take pot-luck.

Strangely, the character whose movement I enjoyed most was not one of the dancers, but Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, played by Johnny Lops. As in the Bernard Pomerance play, he portrays the character without the benefit of costume, makeup, or special effects. His body movements express the deformity. Apparently, because of his deformities, his voice doesn't project well; at times he speaks into his desk. We're supposed to want to avert our eyes from him, but he's the most engaging to watch.

Three dance the final dreams of Merrick, in an unexceptional number. A trio of pink elephants highlights his uncomfortable predicament. A dark, gas-masked, band-of-thugs are nightmarish demons. A circus ringleader, a doctor bound for heroism, Godzilla, and an evangelist try to tie together the dreamlike collage of issues and images in this reimagining. At two hours, and without intermission, our eyes glaze over. We sit on folding chairs and literally become an audience for the doctor's scientific lecture. But if "Elephant Dreams" loses its momentum, it has some lovely dance moments.

A pas de deux of Merrick's only working upper appendage, with Mother's (Cristal Albomoz,) both encased in ill-fitting support stockings, is captivating and memorable. Another wonderful pas has Maxx Passion and Renata Hinrichs brought to Merrick's room to hearten, 'humanize,' and entertain him. Again, it is a dance of gloved hands. This time, white kid gloves. They 'rehearse' their upcoming mission in a dance of how-do-you-do greetings. Solomon Matea is a fellow patient who wordlessly visits Merrick with a sweet dance. The solo and duets make sense in the story and Weeks's choreographic genius glimmers there.

Busby Berkeley-style trios and larger groupings are kerfuffle. Weeks's supplementary video images complicate, conceptually, as much as they edify.

The acting is likable, but about twenty to thirty minutes could be trimmed. In the remaining time, something ought to coalesce about what warrants a revival of "The Elephant Man" in musical theater. "Elephant Dreams" does not inspire new realizations. The concept of "human" is explored again. In the sometimes cleverly convoluted dialogue, the doctors, an evangelist, and other ministers to Merrick, point out myths. For example, in a refrain of "Rules make us happy because they're for our own good."

According to the press materials, Merrick enters the world of Disney's "Dumbo: The Flying Elephant." This conflation prove's too high-flying for Merrick and for us. "Sometimes I think my head is so big because it is full of dreams." Like Merrick's final giving up, we also throw up our hands.

Tarik Davis is Doctor Treves. David Pringle, Michael Jay Henry, Jenni Hong and Jonathan Miles, seamlessly switch between several characters. Albomoz plays Mother and Martha Graham. In dreams, anything can happen.
Merrick Meets Merrick

Merrick Meets Merrick

Photo © & courtesy of Danielle Bock


Mother and Joseph

Mother and Joseph

Photo © & courtesy of Danielle Bock


Merrick's End

Merrick's End

Photo © & courtesy of Danielle Bock

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