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Attack Theatre’s ‘Histoire du Soldat’ proves the company’s greatness

Dane Toney in 'The Soldier's Tale'
Dane Toney in 'The Soldier's Tale'
Attack Theatre

'Histoire du Soldat' by Attack Theatre


I’ll start by stating the obvious. Attack Theatre is great at what they do. Over the past nineteen years, Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope have fine-tuned their vision of the company. And they keep getting better.

Attack’s latest show, “Histoire du Soldat,” was no exception to their greatness. Everything, from the reception in the lobby to the two polished works and precisely choreographed bows, flaunted their expertise.

The evening took place in two acts, as many of their shows do. Act one was the world premiere of “A Tiny Droplet of a Portrait,” a duet between newer company members, Kaitlin Dann and Brent Luebbert. Act two was a reworked group piece called “The Soldier’s Tale.”

Both works utilized live classical music. The first, a score written by Dave Eggar and played by Chatham Baroque. The second, Igor Stravinsky’s septet played by members of the CMU School of Music (and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra previous nights).

“A Tiny Droplet...” took place on a small square stage that created a sense of intimacy for Dann and Luebbert. The two wore deep red, formal costumes with white lace. The fashion matched the baroque music. Then, over top of the violin, viola, and theorbo, an electronic beat pulsed, juxtaposing the time period with contemporary sound.

The movement shared that same contrast. Though the dancers kept a mostly upright torso and proper turn-out, they broke free of that at times with bigger, sweeping phrases and parallel feet. Still, their lines were sharp and crisp, and their heads were held high. Dann and Luebbert danced it quite beautifully, showing off their more balletic technique.

Act 2 presented “The Soldier’s Tale,” a group piece danced by Dane Toney (soldier), Liz Chang (devil), Ashley Williams (devil and princess), and Kaitlin Dann (devil). Peter Kope narrated the work.

In the popular Faustian tale, Toney had returned from war when he sold his violin to the devil in exchange for countless riches. Sadly, the deal took away his friends and family, and ultimately his happiness.

What Attack did so well was to bring out the humor in the story, using contemporary references. The three women who played the part of the devil had a Charlie’s Angels feel, cheekily flashing their legs before tackling Toney to the ground.

Later, when Toney won the hand of the king’s daughter, he believed he could reverse his bad luck. He and Williams got married; their duet was sweet and modest. Then they broke into Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” moves, which had the audience in stitches.

In the end, Toney could not beat the devil. The women’s Matrix-like fighting style was too much for him. Picture them leaning back in slow motion, arms criss-crossing over their chests. Then cue another hearty laugh from the packed house.

Jokes aside, the piece touched on the seriousness of the subject, reminding us that live theater, dance, music and community are all better than the secrets of the stock exchange. The genius of Attack Theatre has always been to combine sincerity with humor.

The sheer quality of the performance from start to finish was most impressive. Dann and Luebbert worked exceptionally well together. Dann’s theatrics in the second piece were masterful. Williams and Chang have remained experts in Attack’s witty and energetic style. Toney proved his dynamics as an authoritative soloist. And Kope was the proverbial glue of the piece, cleverly holding it all together until the lights went down.

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