Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Studio

Also see Susan's reviews of Shining City and Edward II

Stephen Lee Anderson, Chryssie Whitehead and Tyler Hanes
As an experience of pure theater, The Studio, the dance drama by Christopher d'Amboise receiving its East Coast premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is vivid and engrossing, with dancers Chryssie Whitehead and Tyler Hanes ably performing d'Amboise's awesomely complex and accomplished choreography. However, as a play, it slips into cliché with its portrayal of the creative artist as tortured by his own fear of inadequacy and desire for control.

D'Amboise, a noteworthy dancer, choreographer and director for both Broadway and ballet, also wrote this 90-minute examination of the artistic process. In a white-walled studio with mirrored walls (designed by Chris Barreca), a legendary choreographer, Emil (Stephen Lee Anderson), works with two dancers —Lisa (Whitehead), driven by youthful ambition, and Jackie (Hanes), who's been performing for years —to produce a unique work.

"Dance is a language," the autocratic Emil tells Lisa, who is determined to work to the farthest extent of her abilities to get her breakthrough. In his obsession to create something new, Emil encourages Lisa and Jackie to improvise according to his suggestions, then assembles the pieces in an endless number of variations. Along the way, the two dancers bond with each other, which may or may not be part of the choreographer's intent.

In this non-realistic setting, Jackie can tell the audience about his early fascination with ballet, and his wondrous realization that performers who quarrel and struggle backstage can embody grace and nobility together when they face an audience. Lisa describes how her dream of dancing isolates her from her Midwestern family. (Both performers come from the current Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, which calls for a different style of dance.)

The character of Emil is less playable, but Anderson gives it his best effort. The audience learns that he is a perfectionist who once danced for the great choreographer George Balanchine; that he came to prominence with wildly imaginative, multi-media works; and that he became a recluse after his attempt to choreograph Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, which he never allowed an audience to see.

The sound design by Jeremy Lee serves as another major component of the performance, providing a necessary underpinning to the three performances.

Signature Theatre
The Studio
November 6th —December 2nd
Written, directed, and choreographed by Christopher d'Amboise
Emil: Stephen Lee Anderson
Jackie: Tyler Hanes
Lisa: Chryssie Whitehead
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.