By Steve Sucato
There is nothing like the warm feeling of familiarity, especially around the holidays. That is a feeling at the core of Kiesha Lalama’s latest dance-theater narrative Bound in Before, performed by Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company this past weekend and next.
Conceived and written by Lalama and her son, author John Jacob White, and choreographed by Lalama, the world-premiere of Bound in Before is, ironically as the title suggests, bound in what has come before and awash in a storyline, characters and situations all too familiar. The subject of many a Hallmark Channel movie, Bound in Before tells of childhood sweethearts Mickey McWilliams and Claire Henderson who look to rekindle a relationship as adults after many years apart. What makes this telling a bit different is Lalama steeping it in a fair amount of late 1980s, early 1990s teen nostalgia. It is as if the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon had a baby and that baby grew up in the world of John Hughes films (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club) and the TV sitcom Saved by the Bell (1989-1993). The production was candy cane sweet and capital G-rated in a good way.
Bound in Before was set to a lively original score by Jason Coll that substituted for Lalama’s initial idea of using a compilation of songs by popular folk-rock band Mumford & Sons after she couldn’t get the rights to them. The story in 16 scenes follows Mickey, danced by Tyler Kerbel and Claire, danced by Ashley Green, from their grade school beginnings through high school and into adulthood on their way to rather absurdly successful careers, him as a Heisman Trophy-winning, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and her as a renowned concert violinist.
Sure the production was littered with a bevy of stereotypical characters during Mickey and Claire’s high school years (which the production centers on) with its large cast of 45-dancers portraying nerds, dweebs, jocks, burnouts, overbearing parents and even a pseudo-Saved by the Bell “Screech” character Kirk, performed wonderfully by dancer Matthew Saggiomo. But while they all were familiar retreads of characters we have seen, they all nonetheless elicited smiles, laughter and recognition from the audience.
Where the production really shone was in its dancing, visuals and delivery. Maybe the tightest production I have ever seen from the student dance troupe, Bound in Before moved seamlessly and briskly through its scenes like a well-honed Broadway musical. Lalama did a more than commendable job in her mix of contemporary dance and musical theater-like choreography that included bravura dance sequences and flashy, toe-tapping production numbers. Equally her casting of characters was marvelous such as dancer Sydney Fugett as MS Gym Teacher, whose annoyed facial expressions and big eye-rolls at the students were priceless.
While it took perhaps a little longer than expected to get to know and become invested in lead characters Mickey and Claire as individuals and as a couple, the production really belonged to them and both Kerbel and Green were up to the task of giving the audience the heartfelt relationship it needed from the production.
One could almost guess the general arc of the story even before it unfolded with Mickey and Claire’s relationship blossoming from friends to romantic partners, surviving other romantic dalliances, growing apart as careers took center stage and fizzling out in college as a long distance relationship. In the end, the two find themselves back in their old stomping grounds and back in each other’s lives, their story culminating a beautiful production-ending pas de deux capped with a kiss.
Some may see Bound in Before’s lack of original story and stereotypical characters and situations as negatives but there is also a strong case for the flipside in that its familiar story and characters in the hands of Lalama and crew reminded us of what we enjoyed about them in the first place and why they keep reappearing again and again. My only small knock on Bound in Before was Coll’s use of old-school sounding computer-synthesized musical instruments in the music. That bit of nostalgia is one that really should be left to the past.
Kudos to CDC’s dancers for their excellent performances, Coll’s original songs, the entire production team especially costume designer Aimee Colman and Lalama’s choreography.