Weather-wise, spring is returning to Philadelphia in fits and starts. But inside the Wilma Theater Wednesday night the stage bloomed with potted flowers, campy song, loopy dance, and ballooning boobies. In
Proliferation of the Imagination
, a featured event of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, those balloons actually popped - because the production is, after all, based on Guillaume Apollinaire's 1917 play
The Mammaries of Tirésias
. And this first-ever collaboration between the Wilma Theater and BalletX, its resident dance company, milks the show to a mirthful froth.
Walter Bilderback, the Wilma's dramaturg and literary director, and choreographer Matthew Neenan, who codirects BalletX with Christine Cox, pulled together a crack team of actors, dancers, musicians, stage and costume designers to pull off this contemporary version of Apollinaire's gender-bending, proto-feminist, antiwar play after which he coined the term surréalisme.
Mary McCool plays Therese/Tirésias, who refuses to bear children and grows a beard, while Luigi Sottile plays The Husband, in black-and-white-striped bustle skirt and heels. BalletX member Tara Keating, looking oh-so-sexy in a bowler hat and pinstriped leggings, shadows him. And dancer Matthew Prescott, in curls, ruffles, and bustier to match The Husband's, shadows Therese as she becomes more and more masculine.
All of this seems to be taking place in Zanzibar.
Dressed in costumer Maiko Matsushima's trench coats, Anitra Keegan and Jaime Lennon duel with cardboard pistols, kill each other, then rise from the dead. They wear only one pointe shoe each, pushing off on the bare foot for their relevés and falling forward on them. Neenan's use of these pas tombe preparations for a fall imbued the choreography with a good dose of comedic uncertainty and imbalance, especially when the dancer ultimately remained perpendicular.
The Husband, who uproariously manages to "bear" 40,050 children in a single night, spawns a nightmare child danced by Colby Damon. He jumps out of a hamper in a crumpled diaper rapping and parodying hip-hop dance, then soon pulls suspenders up over his shoulders and smokes a cigar. This leads to a trio dancing a rap-inflected salsa and then to a conga line leading the entire assemblage offstage.
New Zealand-based composer Rosie Langabeer wove her atmospheric music in with great humor and played accordion and keyboard on stage along with Josh Machiz (double bass) and Jesse Sparhawk (harp). Steven Dufala designed the whimsical set and Drew Billiau the lighting for this thoroughly enjoyable foray into the era of surrealism that flowed freely after Dadaism and World War I.