Thursday, August 20, 2009

FringeNYC 13: A Time To Dance

The last sentence of my very favorite book, Angela Carter's Wise Children is: What a joy it is to dance and sing! For my money, it's the best novel about theater ever written - the story of Nora and Dora Chance, identical twins and geriatric chorines whose long life and career zooms through celebrity, decay, musical reviews, Hollywood, men, boys, and a Shakespearean theatrical dynasty. It's music hall magic realism and just dizzyingly good.

Libby Skala's A Time To Dance possesses that same rare and joyful energy. Skala plays her own great-aunt, Elizabeth Polk, in a gleeful one woman dance/performance through two world wars, fortune, poverty, innovation (in both dance and clothing fasteners), and a hilariously bad marriage. It's difficult to explain accurately the charm of this show. As played by her niece, Polk was clearly one of the world's rarities - a deeply happy person who possessed the gift of bringing joy to others. Late in her life she pioneered dance therapy, using movement and dance to enrich and help the lives of deaf, developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed children. I do wonder whether the benefits derived by her students stemmed from the methods she developed or from her own force of personality. Polk had a long, well lived life and Libby Skala is an extraordinary performer. This is a great story, told with economy, verve and just a grain of the magical.

Interestingly, after I saw the show, I was raving about it to a male acquaintance. After I described it briefly, he asked me, "is this a girl play?". I very nearly lost it. Why do so many people who should know otherwise believe the lives of women could only be of possible interest to other women? To answer the question: No. It's for everyone.

Back to Libby Skala. A few years ago I saw her show, Lilia!, in which she played her grandmother Lilia Skala - Elizabeth Polk's sister. She had a fascinating life as well - she trained as an architect, acted with Max Reinhardt's company (which made me wonder if she knew Hedy Lamarr), and went on to receive an Oscar nomination for acting in Lilies of the Field opposite Sydney Poitier. Clearly, Skala comes from an extraordinary family. And this is the best part - there was a third sister.

Elizabeth Polk, 1930s Vienna

A Time To Dance
Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street - The Lafayette Street Theatre
Artistic New Directions
Writer: Libby Skala
Remaining Performances: Thurs 20@9:45, Fri 21@3:00, Mon 24@9:45

(photo courtesy of Grace Polk)

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