Scorpius Dance Theatre's ROCK Hits the Right Notes at Phoenix Theatre

Rock 'n' roll is alive and kicking. And writhing, twirling, lunging, and twitching — thanks to a new dance program called ROCK that Scorpius Dance Theatre premièred Thursday, June 25. Rock hits nearly all the right notes, thanks to a genuinely entertaining blend of dance, aerial arts, live electric guitar performance, and film.

Rock music plays even before dancers take to the stage at Phoenix Theatre’s Hormel Theatre, where a giant white sphere that looks like it could double as a trampoline serves as the central set piece. Alas, it never does; but it still makes for a good place to project films and spinning, jagged spoke-like graphics.

Lights project several widening beams of white that morph into other colors and configurations throughout the night — which opens with Los Angeles musician Chad Steinmetz of indie rock band Blue Meridian channeling Jimi Hendix’s performance of "The Star Spangled Banner performance" during Woodstock.

It’s the first of four great riffs he performs throughout the night, although fans of Scorpius Dance Theatre might prefer to think of him as that guy who played Andy in the Duran Duran tribute band Rio featured in the company’s Catwalk…I Love Duran Duran production.

Rock dancers perform to recorded songs, played loud and proud, by several well-known artists — from 1965 to 1971 for Act One: Hendrix, The Doors, Alice Cooper, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles; and from 1975 to 1984 for Act Two: Heart, Nazareth, Journey, John Mellencamp, Van Halen, Joan Jett, the Runaways, and AC/DC. Lighting by Daniel Davisson lends the feel of a rock concert.

The program, which runs nearly two hours including one intermission, includes 13 dance works and two films. Six were choreographed by Starry, and another three by Starry with at least one fellow choreographer. Two were choreographed by Gavin Sisson, and two by Nicole Olson. The variety's a good thing. Each has a different movement vocabulary, which keeps ROCK from becoming a one-note sort of affair.

But that’s nearly the case for the first three works — Five to One, Hey Joe, and Ballad of Dwight Fry — all choreographed by Starry. During each piece, dancers exude a hyper-emotive energy that’s hard to take in big doses. Especially with Ballad of Dwight Fry, performed to Alice Cooper’s song that pays homage to an actor renowned for playing maniacal characters in horror flicks, program notes would have been a big help. For those who don’t get the reference, this dance reads like tasteless mockery of people with mental illness.

The program takes a delightful turn from tough to tender with Starry’s Wild Horses, featuring a beautiful performance by Sisson and Geno Oberlander to the Rolling Stones' ballad. Both dancers demonstrate a rare blend of fluidity and control. Also on the tender side is the first of two films by John Haas, which features Scorpius dancer Kalli Sparish and her young daughter Violet dressed in white and surrounded by white aerial silks inside the Scorpius studio.

Act One ends on the high-energy side, with flamenco performance by guest artists Julia Chacon and Carlos Montafur, and a final Starry piece called Paint It Black. Act Two opens with black lights and aerial silk performance. Sisson and Sparish bring artistry and athleticism to their Love Hurts performance, which is followed by the first of two delightfully funny pieces choreographed by Nicole Olson. One depicts people in constantly shifting liaisons; the other surrounds a wonderfully confident nerdy girl with a pack of peers who think being popular, and identical, is the way to go.

In a program that’s nearly perfectly paced, director Starry saves several of the best dances for last. When eight male dancers take the stage rocking high heels and fashion statements from feather boa to fur vest, the crowd goes wild. Cat calls drown out the music as dancers get the chance to show their own individuality. Some play up the sexy, while others go for slapstick. An aerial hoop performance by Elisa Cavallero and Kalli Sparish follows, as does the night’s second film featuring the Scorpius dancers hitting Skate Land sporting big ‘80s hair and fashion. They're joined by "guest body double skater" Phillip Gibbs.

ROCK closes with Hot for Teacher, choreographed by Starry and Angel Castro. Nick McEntire gets the role of teacher, and he nails it. For everyone who remembers the wild abandon of youth, and those still lucky enough to be living it, ROCK is where it’s at.

Scorpius Dance Theatre performs “Rock” through Saturday, June 27, at Phoenix Theatre’s Hormel Theatre. Tickets are $30 and are available through the Phoenix Theatre box office. Find more information on the Scorpius Dance Theatre website.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version to correct the show's end date and that Nick McEntire is the dancer featured in Hot for Teacher.

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