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Beatrice Fleischlin & Anja Meser

'Come On Baby'

by Renee E. D'Aoust

March 3, 2011 -- TOJO Theater, Reitschule Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Swiss Dance Days
Bern, Switzerland
March 3-6, 2011
www.swissdancedays.ch

What begins as a gender exploration by two women about men and masculine gestures,
gradually transforms into a cabaret spoof complete with a chorus line of pug balloons and tribute
to Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. If I’m not mistaken, the same choreography from the film
is used in this “Dirty Dancing” duet. It is this skill—mimicking recognizable movement to the
tune of pop culture allusions—that propels an evening with Beatrice Fleischlin and Anja Meser
into raucous hilarity.

“Come on Baby,” created and performed by Beatrice Fleischlin and Anja Meser, accomplishes
the impossible: an audience participation event that is fun and funny. I don’t think you need to
be a lover of little dogs to appreciate the use of pugs onstage. Even if they are only balloons,
they still have four legs and four paws. Like a magician, Meser makes them fly through the
air, dancing in suspended pug animation. Circus possibilities are far too often overlooked by
contemporary dance practitioners.

When some audience members were reticent to participate in the instant dance recital that capped
off the show, Meser asked, “Who wants to play with a dog?” Suddenly several people leapt up,
and Meser had more participants than she needed. In a sweeping gesture of inclusion, she used
them all, although some volunteers didn’t get to corral doggies but under Fleischlin’s direction
were angels instead. (And Meser was very good about passing over audience members who
scrunched down in their seats, trying not to be noticed.)

If you’re one of those people who don’t like the mix of genres, which you have to admit does
provide possibilities of whacked-out glee, or if you don’t like thinking of little dogs and modern
dance together, ask yourself why. I think you might be missing the best use of little dogs known
to (wo)man.

So how did we get from masculine gestures to a reverie about pugs? Well, through dance, of
course. Or, as Anja Meser says with a twinkle in her eye, through “performative exploration.”
Go ahead and forget that serious stuff, which doesn’t make any sense but is supposed to mean
something yet only leaves you befuddled as you walk home from the theater.

Here we have serious stuff done in a campy way—all with an eye towards hard-hitting cultural
critique. I didn’t realize that a little girl growing up in Germany would think of MacGyver as
her hero; he fixes things, and she wanted to fix things, too. She also wanted to be a superhero.
I think the reason “Come On Baby” made me laugh so hard is because Fleischlin and Meser
poke fun at everyone and everything, mostly themselves, but they are not mean and nasty about
it either. Donald Duck gets kicked out of the show, to be “saved for another project,” and then
you turn around to the lighting booth to see the technical director and lighting designer Wolfram
Sander sing. Sander’s presence throughout the show was sweet—and he’s a good singer—
while his lighting deftly illuminates aspects of cabaret and of contemporary dance. Only half
the audience got the live joke. The other half, like me, at first, probably thought Fleischlin was
only lip-synching to “I Am What I Am”. She did a damn good job of it, too. The set works either
way, but it’s lovely to see a techie sing. Sander probably does this all the time while setting up
or taking down the show, but not during. In the world of “Come On Baby, everything happens
during the show.

Fleischlin and Meser are super heroines at performing slapstick physical humor with the ability
to make tiny changes in the placement of the leg or the chin to indicate a gender shift. Their
comedic timing is impeccable. The Fleischlin and Meser duo show us cabaret currents in
contemporary dance. They hide nothing, but they keep the theatrical mystery alive, too. Hurrah
for women with balls—and pugs!

-- Renée E. D’Aoust

(Renée E. D’Aoust gratefully acknowledges Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council for accommodation
funding during Swiss Dance Days.)


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