It's telling that just going to see a show about prom kicks up a few stomach butterflies. Love it or hate it, the teenage rite of passage is familiar to many of us, which is why choreographer Maggie Bergeron's "Leaver's Ball" is so relatable, fun and poignant.
On Friday night, the Red Eye Theater was transformed into a twinkly wonderland where we greeted the prom-goers, drank sherbet punch and prepared for a grand march featuring seven nervous but bubbly dressed-up dancers who sashayed, posed and giggled. Even in the early minutes, a palpable sense of change was in the air.
And that's the reason for taking this particular trip down memory lane. Bergeron, who traveled the country observing proms in big cities, suburbs and small towns, discovered that the celebratory high school ritual is all about transition, from one stage of life to the next. Throughout "Leaver's Ball" we witness meaningful realizations about relationships, burgeoning sexuality and the future. The performers fight each another in slow motion, struggle with their moments in the spotlight and find fleeting connection in group dances mixing up various slides and shuffles ("Cha-cha," "Electric," "Cupid," etc.), not to mention the full-body grinding that keeps chaperones on their toes.
There's a lot of humor, particularly the "How dare she/he?" duet featuring Dustin Haug and Emma Barber in a take-no-prisoners battle over their matching strapless dresses. And also heartfelt nostalgia, especially as Mary Easter wordlessly reflects on her prom decades ago while the captivating Linnea Mohn croons "I Only Have Eyes For You."
Speaking of singing, the vivid sound score is a true highlight. Nicholas Gaudette led the music direction in collaboration with Daniel Choma, Eric Mayson and Mohn. Performed live by all of these stellar musicians, the raucous rhythms swing from jazzy to funky and into a more eclectic realm, particularly as the pace ramps up to a fast swirl of action and then devolves into chaos.
While not everything clicks — there are scenes in which repeated mugging by the performers becomes too much of a good thing — overall "Leaver's Ball" positively affirms the power of collective memory. This was most apparent on Friday when a majority of the multigenerational audience took the stage after the final bows for a rousing reprise of the Cha-cha Shuffle.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.