It’s controlled chaos at Attack Theatre’s new digs, only a week before the company bares its latest production, “Incident(s) in the Strip.” Without much ado, co-founder Peter Kope introduces Angel Streitman, a “swing dancer” who takes turns standing in for Kope himself, wife and co-founder Michele de la Reza and percussionist/skate boardist Charlie Palmer, along with being stage manager and electrician.
But then, I like to think that all the Attackers are cloned.
Although “Incident[s]” contains “40 minutes of balls-out dancing” in the first act, according to de la Reza, they are working on the second half, where “life is continuing with a series of intense movements that continually alters it.”
They are rehearsing on an array of platforms that will play a part in “Incident[s],” not only for the performers, but, yes, for you, the audience. Atop the platforms are four carved wooden screens that represent the interior, the home, a personal space.
This is the last rehearsal before the Attackers fly off to North Carolina Arts Market, a prestigious adjudicated festival that only occurs every two years. They will fly down as a team, since the Attack musicians are here rehearsing a wild blend of “La Traviata,” “The Muppet Show Theme” and a sassy samba.
All in the same spacious room. Whew! No walls, but tremendous concentration skills.
The Attack team will perform on Monday, fly back Tuesday and go into tech rehearsal for “Incident[s]” that very day for the opening night Friday. “That’s nothing new,” says de la Reza in an off-handed way. “We rechoreographed a dance on the plane to Indonesia once. We’re used to totally multi-tasking.”
The show originally was called “Strip.” Think Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Think the current economic downfall, stripping funds from the arts organizations. Although the “incidents” idea subsequently became the meat of the production, they didn’t want to lose the “Strip” idea.
So they do.
Protected by the wooden dividers, where the dancers do interior space tasks simulating shower andtoilet routines, and some strategically-placed newspapers (Post-Gazette, of course), they begin to experiment.
“Hm-m-m,” I think, “This may be the most exciting rehearsal I’ve ever attended.”
Attack dancer Dane Toney blithely walks across the platforms with a piece of toilet paper trailing from his right shoe. But he quickly concedes that he won’t be wearing shoes. It’s all part of the creative process where Attack draws from a myriad of resources, all of which at some point tumble onto the dance floor.
In other words, abstract dancerly rebounds from the first half turn into people running into each other in the street…in the Strip, of course.
Here’s some of the sections to look for: “Mail,” “Jacket,” “Stupid Human Tricks,” “Hairpull,” “Praying.” Quite a range, you might say. But there’s more. While the dancers have a playful argument over eating eggs, music director Dave Eggar takes a break from his Latino mode to talk about the music, always such an important part of Attack Theatre’s appeal.
The first act, he explains, is “full and transcendent and atmospheric. In other words, the band rocks out. The second act, with its huge shift, finds the band going acoustic, which means cello, water bottles, bicycle wheel and other accoutrements.
Eggar invokes the name of 20th century composer Morton Feldman. According to Eggar, Feldman says that when musical pieces transcend an hour, “structure gives way to proportion and proportion is impacted by groups of material invading the space.”
Think about it.
In the meantime, Eggar moves on. He likens “Incident[s]” to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where the Attack artists make a number of decisions during the creative process that determine any number of outcomes.
The musicians like that because they have a part in the artistic plan. Take Palmer, ordinarily a percussionist. When he was 11, “Back to the Future” inspired him to take up skateboarding. He can do tricks like a 360 degree kick flip. That will affect the performance.Tom Pirozzi, ordinarily holding forth on electric bass, will lose it in the second act, becoming, according to Eggar, a “hovering existential existence” or an overseer with Seinfeldian observations.
Eggar also calls it “harrowing because we’re creating in the studio in the moment. So right now we don’t know how act two ends. Anything can happen, like my doing a dance solo on a pile of people while I’m playing the cello. All bets are off.”
So the band might write the best or most popular or the hookiest music the member can write, if it’s for themselves. In the Attack show, the goal will be to dissolve a little and re-emerge with something that both serves the music and heightens the overall artistic vision of the piece. “It’s that marriage of the art forms at Attack Theatre that makes things fun and vital and alive,” says Eggar.
Not only for the dancers and the band, but for the audience.
Photos by Rebecca Himberger.