Contact is billed as “a dance play by Susan Stroman and John Weidman,” with what little there is of play mostly by Weidman and the variety and plenitude of the dancing all Stroman. Its two shorter pieces and concluding longer one are of uneven merit but never without interest.
The theme, we have been told, is “swing” in its sundry significances. The first item, “Swinging,” is an interpretation of Fragonard’s famous painting (circa 1768), and starts with a nobleman lolling over the remnants of a picnic and looking up at his lady love soaring ever higher on a swing propelled by a manservant. Charming at first, it becomes coarse and ends with a switcheroo unconvincingly meant to herald the Revolution. Stroman, not a classical choreographer, is somewhat schematic here, though not without a scintilla of winsomeness.
“Did You Move?” takes place in a 1954 Queens Italian restaurant, where a brutish, possibly mafioso client all but immobilizes his repressed wife. During his rather lengthy absences at a buffet (Why, when there is waiter service?), the wife dances rapturously, first solo, then with a complaisant headwaiter. Stroman does better here, and has in Karen Ziemba a gifted and adorable protagonist. But again, Weidman’s scenario seems manipulatively unpleasant, and Stroman is not entirely at home in the Gaîté Parisienne mode.
But in the long third piece, “Contact,” Stroman transcends mere “musical staging,” to which some would limit her, and offers a swing-dancing piece worthy of the best contemporary choreographers. The story is both repetitious and predictable, but Stroman makes it emotionally involving and choreographically absorbing. An alcoholic and suicidal ad executive finds himself in a dive where a sleek girl in yellow is the cynosure of all the rowdy dancers. He is fascinated but, despite the encouragement of the bartender (the droll Jason Antoon) and come-hither looks from the girl herself, too shy to make contact.
Back home, he almost hangs himself, but the tenant downstairs, who has been telephonically protesting his bare and noise-making floors, brings up a carpet ad from the Yellow Pages – and turns out to be the girl in yellow, barefoot, hair down, in sleepwear, now even more enchanting. Boyd Gaines, a delightful actor and inspired amateur dancer, performs with aplomb. Backed up by a terrific ensemble, Deborah Yates triumphs as the girl in yellow; as dancer, actress, woman, she is every man’s dream and headed for a manifest career.
The recorded music is eclectic but serviceable; the sets are tasteful and evocative; the William Ivey Long costumes and Peter Kaczorowski lighting all you could ask for. A somewhat spotty evening, then, whose highlights, however, are high indeed.