‘Monica Bill Barnes and Company’ at The Kennedy Center by Mike Spain

Monica Bill Barnes and company know how to make the audience laugh. Sometimes the comedy is at the dancers’ expense. Other times it is through an array of tricks. They pull material from vaudeville, cheerleading, dance teams, and old tricks you have seen before, and poke fun of show business – all things the audience relats and add them into their highly synched danced routines. They poke fun of show business, themselves, and to deliver something real to the audience. The contemporary dance company has a mission “to celebrate individuality, humor, and the innate theatricality of everyday life.” In the end, they fulfill their mission with their expert choreographed, exceptionally synched dance programs that leaves the dancers smiling and the audience laughing and applauding.

Monica Bill Barnes and Company. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Monica Bill Barnes and Company. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

They open the show with a short film of the group on their way to The Kennedy Center and stopping at the sites along the way. Dressed in full length parkas they carry a puppet show curtain set on to the stage as they start their first dance Luster which was created in 2012. The program mixes the music of German composer Richard Strauss, Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds, songs sung by Tina Turner, Judy Garland, and Lionel Richie to create an eclectic musical background for the performance.

Luster is performed by Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, who has danced with Monica for ten years. The two shed the parkas revealing sequin dresses matched with New Balance sneakers. I was thinking it was an awkward choice by costume designer Kelly Hanson. However, the dancers showed the essentials of the sneakers later in the performance. My favorite song of Luster was “Proud Mary” written by John Fogerty and performed by Tina Turner. They chose a great sounding live version of the song. During this song the dancers performed some hand jives both seated and standing. By the end of the song they were doing some highly choreographed dances featuring the squeaking of the New Balance sneakers which drew laughter from the entertained audience.

I enjoyed the piece “Undan Hulu” by Olafur Arnalds whose music I will certainly explore. Monica and Anna ran laps during this piece. As they ran, they would accelerate and decelerate and amazingly stay in step. Barnes and Bass certainly had a work out during Luster. The programs finale was danced to Lionel Ritchie’s “Angel” The finale include more dancing on chairs and a fan which blew leftover graffiti in the air. Some of the earlier numbers used quite a bit of graffiti tossing which delighted the crowd. The two dancers were a joy to watch as they naturally accompany each other’s moves. There was an intermission between Luster and the next dance program Mostly Fanfare. All of the music in Mostly Fanfare was performed by the great Nina Simone. Monica and Anna were joined by Christina Robson in this performance. They also changed costumes to black skirts, white tops, and cockatiel-feathered head dresses. The highlight of this program was Anna Bass performing her solo to “Let it Be Me.” While she was performing she was surprised by boxes thrown to her from offstage, which she managed to catch. As she performed – more boxes were tossed and eventually a whole bunch of boxes fell from the ceiling. The audience laughed at Anna’s misfortune. However, the piece demonstrates the obstacles one faces.

While dancing to the “12th of Never” the girls pulled out another trick by balancing chairs in their mouth as they dance. After the show, in a post-performance discussion they revealed how they performed this trick, but I will keep their secret safe. They did say the paint on the chairs did not taste very good. The chairs and the lights created a neat shadow visual as they headed into the finale performed to the theme of Samson and Delilah. It was one of many highlights by Lighting Designer Jane Cox, who never overshadowed the dancers. There was a brief pause between this program and the evening’s finale.

Monica Bill Barnes and Company concluded the evening of contemporary dance with a program called Everything Is Getting Better All the Time. The dance was set to a soundtrack of live music performed by Otis Redding. The musical selections were outstanding and I enjoyed listening to the live tracks. Even though I enjoyed listening to the live tracks in Luster and the finale, it was another one of Monica’s tricks. The live tracks had the applause from the performances which encouraged the current audience to applaud as well.

Giulia Carotenuto joined Barnes, Bass, and Robson for the finale. They took the stage dressed in men’s suits. They danced to “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Before you knew it the girls were ripping their tops off! The audience reacted with laughter as the girls still had t-shirts on underneath. Stars were shown on the background and Cox was expertly using the spotlights as they moved onto “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Here Monica was on raised up on the shoulders of Carotenuto to balance the chair in her mouth again as the dancers used batons. Soon the girls shed their pants to reveal shorts as they danced with batons to the evening’s last song “Try A Little Tenderness.”

Monica Bill Barnes and Company danced in synch for 90 minutes and I was so impressed by their ability to to bring laughter, and to entertain an audience so thoroughly. Add in some timeless music, and this was an enjoyable evening! Run and buy tickets if hey visit your town!

'Luster.' Photo by Christopher Duggan.
‘Luster.’ Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with one intermission.

Monica Bill Barnes and Company performed on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. There is one more performance at 7:30 PM tonight. For tickets, purchase them here.

Monica Bill Barnes and Company’s website.


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