INSIDE: Lucky Plush Production’s “Rink Life” with Artistic Director Julia Rhoads
Well-crafted subversion is in the DNA of all Lucky Plush’s work and allows the company to earn the exciting slippage between casual dialogue, athletic choreography and song.
The world of concert dance can be an intimidating thing, especially if you are gearing up for your first dive into it. You’re about to walk into a dark theater, surrounded by a bunch of other people who you think have probably been there before and are about to experience something abstract. What are you supposed to think? Should you be following some sort of story? And when are you supposed to clap? With so many unknowns, it’s always comforting to find something familiar to connect to, and that sense of familiarity is at the heart of many of the works created by Lucky Plush Productions.
Since its founding in 2000, Lucky Plush has created an engaging, stunningly artistic body of work that includes more than 30 pieces of repertoire and 13 evening-length productions. Each work features the innovative implementation of athletic, complex choreography as well as elements of theater, humor and dialogue. This unique blend of dance and theater allows audiences to form deeper and more profound connections to the inspirations of the artists at LPP. Previous evening-length works have been inspired by a wide range of topics including recurring dreams and reality TV. Their latest work, Rink Life, references the nostalgia, social complexities and atmosphere of a 1970’s roller rink — a time and place sans-smart phones and social media, where disco was the soundtrack to social interactions that happened face to face instead of screen to shining screen. LPP Artistic Director and Choreographer Julia Rhoads continues to challenge her artists not only in the physical and artistic delivery of choreography, but far beyond into the realms of acting and singing (including mastering three-part harmonies without missing a movement).
DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera recently had the chance to catch up with Julia Rhoads to learn more about the inspirations and sound score for Rink Life, which is set to premiere at the Steppenwolf Theater November 7-17, 2019. Here’s what Julia told us:
Whether an audience member grew up in roller rinks or has seen them portrayed in TV or film, there is a familiarity that allows people to bring their own memories and associations.
Kristi Licera: One of the brilliant aspects of Lucky Plush is the inherent sense of familiarity embedded in each production. This sense of familiarity can come from the subject matter (think SuperStrip, where the cast portrays a group of superheroes) or the environment that the production takes place in (2014’s Queue takes place in an international airport). The upcoming premiere of Rink Life takes inspiration from a 1970’s roller rink. The physical confines of the rink and social contexts of the era helped guide and structure the creative ideas woven into the production. What made a disco-era roller rink the right choice to house the movement vocabularies and concepts included in Rink Life?
Julia Rhoads: A 1970s roller rink is more of a jump-off point than a literal location in Rink Life. For example, the performers don’t wear roller skates or portray people living in a time gone by. Instead, the visual aesthetics and social dynamics of a disco-era roller rink are conveyed through the lighting design and staging. The choreography and script build upon the spatial rules and aural input of this nostalgic space provide a rich and relatable framework for the characters and stories fleshed out in Rink Life’s vivid world.
A roller rink gives rise to many things–first dates, parties, competitions, roller derbies and the mundane ephemera of a time gone by. Whether an audience member grew up in roller rinks or has seen them portrayed in TV or film, there is a familiarity that allows people to bring their own memories and associations.
Ultimately, the audience experiences the joy of assembling disparate elements and finding meaningful entries into complex work.
Julia: The familiarity of the rink allows the audience to form expectations, which then can be broken as the performers follow new investments within the narrative and wrestle with the challenging physicality of the performance. These breaks can be unexpected and comedic. Well-crafted subversion is in the DNA of all Lucky Plush’s work and allows the company to earn the exciting slippage between casual dialogue, athletic choreography and song. Ultimately, the audience experiences the joy of assembling disparate elements and finding meaningful entries into complex work.
The disparate sounds coalesce into orchestrated musical scales and the ensemble unexpectedly opens up into a highly choreographed dance while singing Stayin’ Alive in three-part harmony.
Kristi: The score design that accompanies Rink Life is as fittingly unique as the movement vocabularies employed inside the production. The score includes musical selections that range from the Bee Gees to James Brown, all sung live by the cast. In fact, there is no pre-recorded music – everything the audience hears will be provided by the vocal stylings of the LPP artists. Can you give us some insight to how you curated the score for Rink Life? What were some of the challenges in bringing the voices of the dancers into the production?
Julia: Roller rinks are full of sensory input—loud music, passing conversations, bodies falling at random or directions called out by a smooth announcer. However, whereas a recorded playlist is what we would expect with roller rinks, I was interested to deliver the surprise of an entirely performer-driven score.
What makes up the score? The script-turned libretto moves between casual dialogue to complex vocalizations. In one moment, the audience hears bits of passing conversations and individual performers grooving to the songs in their heads during an “open skate.” The disparate sounds coalesce into orchestrated musical scales and the ensemble unexpectedly opens up into a highly choreographed dance while singing Stayin’ Alive in three-part harmony.
Ultimately, the gossipy whisperings of conflict soften into a harmony that can only be served up in retrospect.
Julia: The vocal score is also crafted to support and drive the narrative. When the private inner-workings of a character spill out into a public space through a monologue of non-sequitur ramblings, misunderstanding is passed like a torch, distorting truths like a childhood rhyme handed down through generations of telephone. Ultimately, the gossipy whisperings of conflict soften into a harmony that can only be served up in retrospect.
The demands of a live acoustic score open up new stakes: impacting the breath, changing the quality of the sound and creating a heightened emotional and kinesthetic experience for both the performers and the audience. It has taken months of training for the ensemble to develop the stamina to deliver the show’s vocal score in combination with its complex choreography and storytelling. The results are nothing short of moving and delightful, and we look forward to sharing it with audiences!
Lucky Plush Productions presents the world premiere of Rink Life November 7-17, 2019 at the Steppenwolf Theatre (1650 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60614). Tickets are available at steppenwolf.org.
To learn more about Lucky Plush Productions and their body of work, visit www.luckyplush.com.