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RAPT Performance Group

'House'

by Karen Hildebrand

February 8, 2003 -- SomArts Cultural Center, San Francisco, CA

The husband and wife team of Austin Forbord and Shelley Trott, who co-direct RAPT Performance Group, swept into the San Francisco dance scene at Summerfest 2001 with a promising television sitcom approach to dance. With the debut of "House," an evening-length look at family dynamics, RAPT partially lives up to its early buzz.

The cavernous SomArts Cultural Center is divided into a spacious asymmetrical two-level stage with living room, kitchen, and bedroom. White picket fence sections hang from the building rafters. Four television sets run a continuous loop of actual commercials and sitcom music while video images appear on a large screen in the rear and behind the living room door.

Perched in a balcony offstage is the musician/composer garage band duo of Mark Adams and Peter D’Elia who provide a unifying musical element with a combination of electronic house beat and live rock guitar and percussion.

We first meet our family of five at breakfast. Mom, played by Jessica Adams washes dishes while, Dad (Benn Mendoza), adolescents Forbord and Tina Banchero -- who in an amazing sleight-of-body feat simultaneously appears in two productions: both "House" and the Dance Brigade’s "CaveWomen" -- and youngest child, Sonya Smith, are seated around the table. Banging spoons against cups and whirring an electric beater into a metal dish, they produce a contagious finger-snapping, toe-tapping rhythm section.

When Smith unexpectedly springs with both feet solidly onto the amplified table top, the scene explodes into movement. The dancers, one and two at a time, use the table as a springboard to lift and toss each other, cartwheeling over it and back flipping off.

The characters are drawn in vignettes that illustrate their signature traits: Dad wears a constant expression of anxiety with the hunched shoulders of defeat; Mom smiles through everything and finishes the day with a bottle of booze; Banchero as the oldest child in blue lipstick is perpetually sullen; the cross-dressing Forbord is alternately defiant and confused; Smith’s portrayal of the youngest child, in a pink baby doll dress, hints at incest.

In athletic shoes the dancers literally bounce off the walls with movement that’s part hip-hop, part MTV, part gymnastics. The vocabulary is initially engaging, but soon becomes repetitive and the contact-based partnering plays it a bit too safe. It’s not really a surprise when Junior’s flying leap crashes into Sis from behind, because she’s looking over her shoulder in preparation. And because the program notes that Forbord and Trott consider German dance company, Sasha Waltz, as an influence, it’s hard to avoid a lukewarm comparison to the random dives, punches, and slams that that company pushes to the very edge.

Certainly "House" has some great moments, such as the scene where Dad finds Junior dressed in Sis’s clothes. A duet ensues with Dad demonstrating manly swagger that the son tries to mimic. The later introduction of a cat burglar as the father’s alter ego is of interest, but the intruder’s elaborate entrance via a dangling rope seems disjointed, an add-on to showcase Mendoza’s aerial skill.

But it’s a big problem that this "House" is infested with stereotype and narrative that doesn’t allow the characters to change or grow. And if the intent is satire of the dysfunctional American family, it doesn’t go far enough, freshly enough. We have a better alternative, albeit without the dance, in a weekly episode of "The Simpson’s".

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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