Film, theater or dance? Which art form best captures the thrill and mystique of making an instant connection? That feeling when two strangers meet and sense attraction stronger then neodymium magnets, like Romeo and Juliet at a masquerade ball.
Director/choreographer Stuart Pimsler makes a case for all three media in “Matinee,” a short but sumptuous multidisciplinary collaboration now playing at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. The two-week run continues through Sunday in the 1920s-era theater, and there’s no more perfect venue in the Twin Cities than this slightly musty auditorium with creaky seats.
The performance begins, cleverly, with an usher escorting a latecomer down the aisle. She’s a woman of a certain age, from a bygone age, wearing a pillbox hat and carrying a pocketbook. Onstage, a narrator tells us a bit more about our interloper. She was “weary of the tedium of her days, her lonely life going nowhere,” he explains. Today, she’s skipped work and come to the theater, hoping to experience “the consoling power of sudden uncomplicated love, love that has no trajectory attached to it but is a pure and immediate enrichment of the soul and delight of the body.”
Most of the narrator’s dialogue is lifted directly from a Robert Coover short story of the same title. The woman watches as the onstage action shifts from film, to live dance, and to scenes that incorporate both. Although no classic films are cited by name, the stream-of-consciousness meta-narrative about going to the movies alludes to such films as “A Brief Encounter,” “The Miracle Worker” and “Jane Eyre.”
So often, when choreographers look to incorporate text, their dancers aren’t up to the acting challenge. That’s only an occasional problem in “Matinee,” and J.K. Simmons doppelganger Jesse Neumann-Peterson is an able narrator. Nor did the troupe cut corners on video projections. Roughly 20 percent of the show features the Pimsler performers in film-noir-style scenes shot by Andrew Welken. At other moments, live action occurs in front of projections, which are aimed either at the wall of the theater or improvised screens, including a mattress left over from an onstage tryst.
There’s a lot of romanticized sex in “Matinee,” but this is no fluffy afternoon delight. Rather, it’s a meditation on romantic escapism, and why we all — like the woman in the pillbox hat — long to be swept off our feet. But in reality, and in this theater/dance dream, all does not end well for lovers who meet-cute and act on their carnal impulses.
As narrated by Neumann-Peterson, “Matinee” explores the possible what-ifs. There’s a variety of choreography throughout the 50-minute piece, including a roll-around-in-the-sheets pas de deux and big social-dance numbers featuring not only the seven company dancers, but an expanded cast of guest artists. Most are decent movers. Call it the curse of “An American in Paris,” the 2015 musical with choreography by ballet wunderkind Christopher Wheeldon, but the concept of “Matinee” is so clever, and the production values are so high, that it’s reasonable to wish for more virtuosic, Fred-and-Ginger dancing.
Sigh. At least the Tony winner comes to Ordway Center in June. “Matinee” will tour, too; Pimsler has dates lined up in Florida, Virginia and Utah. Unfortunately, these performers will probably have to fly, even though the characters they play travel by train, bidding each other tearful farewells at railroad stations. Welken’s Pullman car scenes are priceless. Whatever their conveyance, “Matinee” is a multimedia export that Pimsler can be proud of.
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What: A dance/theater work adapted from a story by Robert Coover.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, 410 Oak Grove St., Mpls.
Tickets: $15-$22. 763-521-7738 or stuartpimsler.com.