Matthew Bourne is a risk-taker. Bourne’s Play Without Words at the Ahmanson Theater is most likely viewed from a better artistic vantage point from a box seat than from the traditionally coveted orchestra circle.
The semi-aerial view of Play Without Words is amazing. The diagonals that were employed by the triad of the dancers’ three-part selves read exceedingly well from above. What Bourne did by using three people to flesh out an entire person could not have been understood as well from a lower seat in the theater. This concept must have looked confusing and slightly muddled. From above, however, it was very evident that the various dancers that made up each character were just that and nothing less.
Watching this work makes one feel as though he/ she is in G-d’s head in Paradise Lost, for he can see the past, present, and future all at once. The ways in which the various personalities seduced, boogied, and postured themselves with one another allow the audience to feel as though they are seeing whole people and not just one side—these characters were complete. The most complete dancers and those who deserve a great deal of kudos on their performance were Maxine Fone and Valentina Formenti. These two women were spectacular. The way in which they went from a small-town, bright-eyed girl to a woman who was torn between lovers and her own shame was incredible. Not only did these two dancers show this change in their faces, but this transformation was also evident in their bodies to extreme detail.
In the beginning, Sheila’s character was open and ready to embrace adventure. Later, there were moments of seduction and displays of sexual abandon—her rendition of a 1960’s go-go dancer atop a table, but the most important transition was from the meekness of a housemaid to woman of the house, which Fone and Formenti showed in their shoulders—for they knew how to display that they carried knowledge and/or experience upon them. Sheila’s story was like that of Millie’s in Thoroughly Modern Millie—a small town girl goes to New York and the city puts a few hard edges on her.
Even though the dancing was modern in technique, it was apparent that these strong-legged women also had ballet training. Their bios in the program confirmed this. This training gave their quality of movement a sense of thoughtfulness and great fluidity, which was so entirely genuine that the character was that much more relatable and broke through the fourth wall in an almost defiant way.
It seems that Bourne was having a great deal of fun when he choreographed this work. There is a sense of recklessness, but it is a kind, artful recklessness. The storyline is simple, and yet, complex because of the emotion-infused choreography and what the audience ultimately brings with them and how it colors what they see. Additionally, because the subject matter is people and their relationships with one another, it hits close to home for anyone and everyone.