Collide Theatrical’s WonderLand is a Unique and Entertaining Twist on Alice In Wonderland With Some Real World Gravitas.

Photo By Wells Film & Photo

Collide Theatrical Dance Company Is staging a dance interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at two outdoor locations. The show runs 5-15-21 thru 5-31-21 outdoors at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul before transfering to the Mill City Museum for shows 6-5-21 thru 6-20-21. The seating is socially distanced which limits the size of the audience per show so it’s recommended that you purchase your seats early. For more details and to purchase tickets go to https://www.collidetheatrical.org. I think of this as phase one in getting back into the theater for shows. It’s spring and with summer on the way, hopefully by fall we are able to gather indoors for shows regularly.

I was looking for something special to mark my return to reviewing shows. Readers of the site will probably be familiar with the name Miranda Shaughnessy. A young dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, videographer who wowed this reviewer from the first time I saw her perform very early in this blogs existence. When I was alerted to her attachment to WonderLand, I realized this was the show to begin phase one with. WonderLand was created by Regina Peluso, directed by Peluso and Heather Brockman, and choreographed by the company. Shaughnessy who plays Alice displays the physical talents which originally brought her to my attention over a year and a half ago. Precision dancing accompanied by a stage presence and facial expressions that telegraph to the audience exactly what we need to know about her character in the moment. She is surrounded by a talented cast of dancers Jarod Boltjes, Rush Benson, Renee Guittar, Chelsea Rose, Patrick Jeffrey, Heather Brockman, and in a voice over roll Ryan Colbert.

The twist of this production is that the setting is a mental Health inpatient facility. The familiar characters from the well known tale all representing different psychological issues. The characteristics that we identify with those characters fit well into these diagnosis and the company also finds ways in which to make their dance styles accent them as well. The White Rabbit for example suffers from anxiety manifesting itself in his frantic tap dancing. The doctor who is trying to treat them all by remaining calm and in control performs ballet. The dancing and musical choices are fun and energetic and the reveals of each characters backstories are well done. What struck me most surprisingly was the contrast between these moments of energetic dance with moments of real pathos as the root causes were revealed for each character particular difficulties. The reveals for the White Rabbit and the Red Queen sticking out as especially well realized. If you enjoy dance and are missing your regular theater fix, you will not be disappointed by Collide Theatricals WonderLand.

HoliDaydream 2020: A Very Covid Christmas The Annual Minnesota Dance Collaborative Holiday Treat Arrives To Send 2020 Out With A Much Needed Smile On Our Faces

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HoliDaydream Poster designed by Miranda Shaughnessy

HoliDaydream is a unique annual holiday production by the Minnesota Dance Collaborative (MDC). For seven years HoliDaydream has followed the character of Marie played every year by Miranda Shaughnessy. She was 10 when the show began and is now 17 going on 27, more on that later. HoliDaydream was created by and is written and directed by Shelli Manzoline who is the Artistic Director of MDC. Each year we follow Marie a year older on a different adventure. In the past the adventure has all taken place over a 24 hour period. This year, like so many things in our world it is different, taking place this year over a period of months. The other big change is that obviously we cannot attend this show in the theatre so the team behind HoliDaydream made the decision to tell the story through a video production. Born of necessity the approach has its drawbacks, but the end result is an entertaining and effective way to keep the tradition alive.

This years storyline follows Marie and her friends as the try to find Ms. Marta, played by Shelli Manzoline, the head of their dance studio who has gone missing. They look for her around the city and eventually decide they will have to get going on creating their Holiday show themselves. They meet regularly and discuss ideas and talk about what they hate about Covid, how their lives have changed, and what they are missing like proms, graduations, leads in school plays, etc. Culminating in what could be read as a farewell to HoliDaydream, I hope not. Basically the Storyline doesn’t really matter and is the least engaging aspect of the show. They are also the segments that reveal the shortcoming of the video approach. Dialogue that plays fine in the theatre as a set up for a dance routine takes on a level of reality in video that isn’t as easily glossed over. Time isn’t spent to make much of those intersong scenes work, which is fine, the dancing should and does take centerstage.

The video approach is a double edged sword though in terms of the dancing as well. One of the joys of seeing a dance heavy production, like I did with last years Holidaydream 2019, is taking in the dance sequences performed live and uninterrupted. I remember being amazed last year at the skill and precision along with the shear athleticism and stamina of these dance routines. The downside of video approach is that it is edited, you still get the skill, precision, athleticism, but the stamina is lost as well as the thrill of seeing it live. They were forced to make a decision of do you just set up a camera and shoot the dance sequences start to finish, or do you basically make a movie musical, or a series of music videos. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I think in a theatrical world populated by Zoom productions and one camera static wide shots of stage productions, they made the decision that is much more engaging and inviting of a rewatch. They made some sacrifices but overall what they ended up with is a better treat for the audience and I think we all need one right now.

In total there are 14 musical numbers in the show shot in 13 different iconic location in Minnesota. Another benefit of the video approach they chose was opening the show up. They are reminding us of all these incredible places in our area, many of them places we cannot go right now, but we will, we will. There are numbers at the MN State Fairgrounds, the Sculpture Garden, Rice Park in downtown St Paul and many others. My favorite was the dance to David bowie and Queens “Under Pressure” at the Minnesota State Capitol. This segment had the best camerawork and editing. Many of the segments I felt were edited to heavily, this one while equally heavily edited worked, there were only a couple of shots I wish had been held longer. But as a piece it worked from start to finish and was a singularly impressive work of filmmaking as it was of the performances of the dancers, everything clicked. Other favorites were the Ramones “I Want to be Sedated” shot at Keg and Case a dance number that just put a smile on my face and had an energy then conveyed the fun the dancers were having with the number, which translated to the audience. “A Lovely Night” Shot at the Saint Paul Hotel is a duet between Noah Coon, one of three Male dancers in the troupe and Miranda Shaughnessy. It has a nice classy romantic feel to it making nice use of the location. There were a couple of just plain fun numbers that were enjoyable and made great use of locations. “National Pastime” Featuring Grace Sjolander doing a fun Marilyn Monroe pastiche shot in the Saint Paul Saints Stadium. Cade Kaiser has a fun featured part in “Barry Is Going to Prom” from the musical The Prom shot at the Calhoun Beach club.

I said we’d touch more on Miranda Shaughnessy earlier. Last year I took notice of her talent and stage presence as a dancer in a show at Minnsky Theatre. That notice turned into admiration when I saw HoliDaydream 2019, when I learned that at 16 she had also choreographed several of the dance numbers. I was bowled over and realized this was a person whose career I should follow. This year as always her talent in performance and dance are as amazing as ever. When I watched the credits at the end my jaw dropped to the ground. Many theatre fans find zoom and other video performances to be very hit or miss. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out. The Story sections are very much locked down cameras recording dialogue. The dance segments were another matter. My suspicion as the show progressed was that they had shot the sitting in a room dialogue stuff and a few other side items on their own, but had a professional or video student shoot and edit the dance segments. The Director of Photography was Miranda Shaughnessy. Camera Operators were Shelli Manzoline and Miranda Shaughnessy. Edited by Miranda Shaughnessy. Music/Sound Editor Miranda Shaughnessy. Last year she choreographed or co-choreographed 4 of the numbers, this year she choreographed seven solo and co-choreographed one additional. When I reached out today as I was pulling in the image for this review I asked who to credit for the poster design featured above. The reply, “We took the photo ourselves and Miranda did the edit”. This young artist is 17 years old. I don’t know if I have ever used the word artist more appropriately than I did in describing miss Shaughnessy just now. I don’t think there is anything more to say, perhaps a moment of silence to let this all sink in.

HoliDaydream: A Very Covid Christmas is available to stream by going to this link http://www.mndancecollaborative.org/new-page A $20 donation is recommended, but the show is pay what you can so that everyone can enjoy it. Clearly a lot of time and work went into this and it is important to support artists at this time as much as we can. It will be available through January 30th 2021. DVD’s are also available.

Ring out the Holidays with Nutcracker Noir: A Sensual Cirque Ballet at Minnsky Theatre in NE Minneapolis

PHOTO BY  EDN-FORGE 

This was my 4th visit to the Minnsky Theatre on Central Ave in NE Minneapolis. You just never know what you are walking into at the Minnsky. I’m always expecting something like what I saw the last time and then I get something new. I’m sure at some point I will have seen all of the variables, but last night was reminiscent of what came before, but also unique. First off, I don’t think it was quite a sold out show as I saw a couple of empty seats, but it was very close. Due to a show by the Danger Committee before the Nutcracker Noir, the lobby wasn’t opened until about 5 minutes before the show start time. If you are planning to go, that is the schedule for the remaining Friday and Saturday shows. I recommend either showing up early so you are first in when the doors open and can get a beverage and snack (the baked goods are to die for); or coming at around 9, so you don’t have to wait in the line, you’ll have assigned seats so no need to be early.

TifDynamite as the host points out before the show, if you are not familiar with the story of the Nutcracker, what you are about to see is not correct. This is like a naughty funny sequel to the classic story. It takes place 10 years after Clara’s original adventure in the Land of Sweets. Unlike the previous Christmas reimagining I saw earlier in December at the Minnsky, this one is not full of jokes, in fact there is no dialogue at all. This is an all dance/performance show. Now that Clara, played by Bookie Blues, is all grown up she wants a man. Her Grandmother and Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Dee Richards and TifDynamite decide to make her dream come true. Drosselmeyer uses his magic as he did all those years ago to make the toys from Clara’s childhood come to life again, including the Nutcracker, played by Jac Fatale. Before long the Rat Queen, played by Red Rider, appears and there is a dance off and a battle between the Nutcracker, the other toys, the Rat Queen, and her Rats. After Intermission, The Nutcracker and Clara travel to the Land of Oh So Sweet Sweets. Here in the court of Mistress Sugar Kum Fairy, played by Kirstin Nelson (did I mention this show is for adults?) The sweets take turns dancing to entertain the court. So there is a story, but honestly it’s there as a clothesline to hang the different acts on that will be performed.

One of the things I dislike about the Minnsky is it’s hard to single performers out as there are no bios in the programs, sometimes there are not even programs. This time there was and it listed the performers and the roles they played, but when everyone plays multiple roles and you never hear any of their character names, that’s not as helpful as you might think. With names like Droplet, Dew Drop, Spice Drop and Snowflake it’s challenging to know who’s who. If I guess wrong my apologies to the performers please e-mail me and I’ll make corrections.

So what are those acts? There are more than I can probably recount. There is pole dancing, led by Expert on the pole, Red Rider. Many of the routines at the Minsky that involve dangling in air such as pole dancing and the lyra cause the same reaction within me as watching an improv troupe perform a song. I’m incredibly anxious for the performer and amazed at their abilities at the same time. What is even more impressive than a performer doing a pole dance, is when there are four performers, two on each pole. The trust the performers must place in each other is impressive. Aside from the pole and the lyra, there was a trapeze and a large fabric sash. The lyra is usually my favorite, and I really enjoyed it this time as always, but the hammock is my new favorite. Miss Coco Nostal’jah (I think) performed on the hammock, gliding through the air as if she were flying and then wrapping herself up and dangling higher and higher above the ground. It is truly amazing what she can do simply wrapping limbs up in the hammock and turning. Another act that was new this time were the the fire eaters. You just never know what you are going to see at the Minnsky. Including a wardrobe malfunction that provided us with way more Chocolate, played by Obsidian, than we were intended to see. Like a true performer though he carried on and didn’t let it phase him. All the performers are talented, and their acts focus on their area of expertise, whether that be tap, ballet, hip hop or modern dance.

Each individual act has its moments as did the entr’acte moments. There was a nice piece of business throughout with one of the Stagehands who was responsible for raising and lowering the Lyra and trapeze, and placing the safety mats. It was never the simple business of accomplishing the task, there was always some subtle interplay with another stagehand or character in the show. A very dry humor similar to the facial humor of Buster Keaton in his smaller moments. This helped the show enormously. One of the issues with the Minnsky shows can be that they seem to go along and then stop for a routine, which frequently requires setting equipment. This is simply the nature of the shows they do I suppose but it would be nice if they could find a way to integrate the acts within the show more and cut down on the stoppage time for equipement setting. Perhaps staging something in the foreground while the change takes place behind the performers or off to one side so the audiences focus is drawn away from the equipment changes, much harder to do in a show without dialogue I’m sure.

The highpoints of this show are the Minnsky’s specialties, the dancing the aerial gymnastics and the teases of skin. If you enjoy all of that you will have a good time. If you are looking for a more cohesive story and a show that flows from act to act you might be disappointed, so just go in knowing that. That is an area the Minnsky could work on in general. For information and to purchase tickets visit https://www.minnsky.com/shows-.html Nutcracker Noir: A Sensual Cirque Ballet runs through January 4th. This is an 18+ show, it was much tamer then the Grinch Who Stole XXX-mas, aside from the wardrobe malfunction that is, but I don’t imagine that will be repeated.

I’ve Seen the Future and it’s Miranda Shaughnessy. Starring in Minnesota Dance Collaborative Production HoliDaydream at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

Miranda Shaughnessy Photo by Dan Norman

Minnesota Dance Collaborative’s presentation of HoliDaydream is in residence at The Southern Theater in Seven Corners area of Minneapolis. I spent close to a dozen hours at the Southern this fall at the Twin Cities Horror Festival. It’s a very atmospheric theater perfect for horror plays and, as it turns out, Christmas dance fantasy’s as well. The performance space is broad and deep allowing the dancers plenty of room, and this company makes excellent use of it. I’ve written before about the joy of exploring new forms of theatrics, out of my comfort zone, such as Opera and Dance. HoliDaydream is primarily a dance piece but it has dialogue and some singing as well. It’s something of a special show. When I was told about it, I immediately thought of the great Richard Linklater film Boyhood. This is the sixth year that they have done a variation on this show. The main character Marie has been played all six years my Miranda Shaughnessy. She first played the role when she was age 10 and is now 16. Every year the show follows her through another Christmas, her character another year older. Referencing previous years, just enough to hint at the continuity for the repeat audiences but not so much to make you feel like you came too late to the show if you are a newcomer like me. I love this idea, and I do grieve the fact that I cannot attend the previous five years performances.

The story begins as I suspect each year has with Marie writing a letter to Santa. This year at 16 she is thinking less about all the “things” she wants and more about what is really important, like Bernie in the White House. Then she suddenly has a vision of herself in the future and she is down and depressed and it seems like she has ruined Christmas for everyone. The rest of the show Marie and her friends search the past for clues as to how or why she has ruined Christmas. This is where they reference the previous years adventures and based on those hints, there have been some really interesting themes explored in past years. The story elements lend themselves to dance sequences, first off they are dancers, so they go to a dance studio. But there are also dreams and conversations with people inside Marie’s head, which flow smoothly into dances. The show is filled with dancing, more on that below, but it’s also populated with a wonderful assortment of characters including the Dance studio headmistress and Marie’s Mom, both played with gusto and humor by the Writer and Artistic Director Shelli Manzoline, who created this idea of revisiting Marie every year.

The dancing. I cannot do justice to the beauty of the dancing with the words at my disposal. I don’t want to turn anyone off with all the dance talk. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will be amazed and entertained by this dancing. This is not boring or inaccessible at all. It’s incredibly entertaining and engaging. Minnesota Dance Collaborative doesn’t focus on merely one style of dance, they do everything from ballet to hip-hop. Like previous dance performance I’ve seen, I was amazed at the synchronization and sheer athleticism involved. The first dance number “Back in Time” showcased the precision of the entire company, 14 dancers all moving together quickly and flawlessly. “The Nutcracker Battle Compilation” telling a story solely in movement, expressing not only actions but also emotions with their entire bodies. I even got a few callbacks to earlier in this first season of reviewing shows. The first was a number called “Christmas Calamity” and it’s a parody of “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, which I reviewed the Theater Latte Da production of. This is one of the few songs in which the dancers actually sing and they all did nice vocal work as well. Second was “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Show, which was done at Park Square this fall. There was even a mention of not saying the “M” word in a theater, referencing of course MacBeth which I saw the Wayward Theatre Company mount as well this fall. Heck, they even mention Fargo ND which is where I grew up! So while Marie was having her trip down memory lane it felt like I was as well. It’s hard to single any of the dancers out as the program does not have picture and bios, but they are all very talented. One Dancer I spoke with briefly after the show was Grace Sjolander who plays Marie’s sister Lucy. Sjolander has been dancing in competition throughout her life and it shows in the precision she brings to here dancing. There are only two male dancers Lawson Sharrer and Cade Kaiser, both of them in the 14 to 16 year old age range I’d guess, both had the dance steps down, both did some fun line readings. Lawson sharrer has that little extra that could develop into something special, he had that little added bit of grace in his dancing and the ability to sell everything with his face.

Speaking of Something extra, earlier this year I reviewed a show at the Minnsky Theatre. In that review I singled out one dancer. In fact, I was so taken with her dancing and performance that I tracked someone from the cast down after the show to get her name so I could mention her specifically. Her Name is Miranda Shaughnessy and she’s a smasher! There is a line from the film Sunset Boulevard, where a retired film star talks about her days in silent films. Norma Desmond says “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”. Shaughnessy has the face and the gift of a great silent film actress. Do not mistake me, she can act with dialogue and I’m not referencing the inaccurate cliche of the overacting silent performer. She has the gift of conveying so much with her face that dialogue is superfluous. Equally effective with drama and comedy. She has the same talent in her dancing, watching her move you are never at a loss to know what her character is feeling. Watching her dance is to understand the beauty of movement. Watching her face is to understand the joy of dancing. One of the joys of seeing as much theater as I do is running across talents like this. I have a small list of local performers that I will make it a point to see everything they are in. Miranda Shaughnessy is now on that list. At sixteen years old she is six years into playing the lead in an annual Holiday production. Of the 13 dance numbers in the show she either choreographed or co-choreographed five of them. There will come a time when this talent will head to New York or LA, but she told me after the show she would want to come back at this time of year to continue her journey as Marie. I hope she’s able to do that. Not many actors get the opportunity to own a role like this, to revisit a character yearly, in a new show with the character aging with them. That’s a rare thing in the world, and it’s something I think she should continue as long as she can. I’m not sure once she goes out into the larger world how long that will be, because she’s going to be big.

HoliDaydream runs at the Southern Theater through December 22nd for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.southerntheater.org/