Once in a while you see a show on Opening Night that is good, but not perfect. In the worst cases, that is all it will ever be.
In the best case scenarios, the cast and production staff go away and work on the fineries and tighten the ship.
Teatro ZinZanni’s latest effort, Dinner at Wotan’s, will hopefully fall into the latter category and if the very open minded views of the cast members I spoke to after the show are any guidance, that is exactly what will happen.
The show marks a significant variation from the normal TZ production; arguably the biggest risk since the off-beat Maestro’s Menagerie starred Ukrainian illusionist Eugeny Voronin.
In Dinner at Wotan’s, absent (largely) is the emphasis on cross dressing, vaguely suggestive remarks and to a large part the ritual humiliation of audience members. All of that is seen but less so than normal.
Evergreen and ever welcome Geoff Hoyle provides a small amount but it arrives early and doesn’t steal the show.
The night lacked any coherent storyline that I could detect which gave it the air of a talent show for the very talented with very little joining one act to the next. The acts were of top caliber and a big shout out is hollored to the Vertical Tango duet of Sam Payne and Sandar Feusi.
They are stalwarts of ZinZanni’s Seattle Spiegeltent but upped their game considerably and produced their most breathtaking display yet, an observation I make as someone who has seen them maybe six or seven times.
If that was the highlight of excellence, the focal point of bravery and newness was former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Ariana Lallone in her transformation from dancer to acrobat, or from two-dimensional dancer to three-dimensional.
Admitting later, she was originally terrified to take to the air, she revealed it was her own suggestion that provided the impetus for trying something new.
She made her debut in Bonsoir Liliane, a tribute vehicle for Liliane Montevecchi and it was to say the least awkward.
I wrote at the time:
“Ariana Lallone is making her debut here having left the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
She is a great dancer and her skills were able to be shoehorned into the story given Ms Montevecchi’s origins at the Roland Petit Ballets. In one scene, Ariana danced as a young Liliane. That worked.
Beyond that, I remain to be convinced that ballet can work effectively in the ZinZanni Spiegeltent format. It seemed at times that they were struggling to find space for her.”
The message hit home and Lalonne later recognized that. In this show, she takes to the air and does so with a grace and beauty that does bridge the gap between dancer and professional acrobat.
“I love working at Teatro ZinZanni,” she beamed at me later in a fascinating discussion that I hope to resurrect with the tape recorder on one day.
But, and I mention this merely to foster jealousy in female readers, the biggest hug I received post curtain was from brooding six foot Swede Tobias Larsson.
He had reproduced “joiking”, the ancient art of Inuit throat singing in ‘Licensed to Kiss’.
After that show, I once interviewed him and ‘joiked’ with him.
I gushed at the time in my review:
“… to my, and perhaps only my delight, he launched into the joik of the failed 1980 Norwegian Eurovision song contest entry, Sámiid Ædnan. Joik is a form of singing practised in the most northern outposts of Scandinavia where the Saami people live. In 1980, Sverre Kjelsberg & Mattis Hætta used a joik refrain in their entry, a protest song against a hydro-electric dam.
In that era, the song contest was all glamour and sparkles, so the site of Mattis Hætta walking onto the stage of the Congresgebouw in the Hague dressed in a Lappish folk costume was remarkable, but to most hilarious. The song didn't win but became a poster child for the general naffness of the Eurovision Song Contest in the eyes of those who considered themselves the opinion formers of popular music. I had forgotten all about it until Tobias started joiking, and joiking beautifully.”
Tobias remembered and I am delighted to say the joiking was back although it is just begging for an audience participation slot. And Tobias in Lappish folk costume, yelling “Sámiid Ædnan” at the top of his voice.
Larsson’s return to our side of the curtain is welcome and if anything, he needs to forget his directorial role and force his personality more into proceedings. The show lacks just a little strong personality until Geoff Hoyle appears portraying Wotan hilariously as a ‘right old Cockney Geezer.’
This acting performance is perhaps the verbal highlight of the night. Hoyle seems to be playing the type of people he knows from his London past and he keeps the cultural references limited without patronizing the audience. And he said 'arse'.
Anki Albertsson as Fricka receives plenty stage time but could also impose herself more, perhaps a joke or two, a skit; or a part in at least one coherent sub-story. Kristin Clayton performers the soprano role but I felt that two blonde female singers risked each encroaching on each other’s identity a little.
Terry Crane makes his ZinZanni debut as Loki and his acrobatics fit seamlessly into what has gone before in the Spiegeltent. He’s a natural fit.
I have always applauded theatres who take risks and try something new, so I have no hesitation in doing so here. It will take a few more weeks and shows to tweak things but Dinner at Wotan’s has the potential to be setting the lutefisk alight in a few weeks’ time.
Stay tuned and keep joiking.