FrenetiCore Dance Theater’s Rebecca French gets reflective.
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Trish Badger
David Rakoff makes choreographer Rebecca French wanna dance. So instead of reviving, say, the Sugar Plum Fairy for FrenetiCore Dance Theater’s Christmas offering, French decided to give voice to the late “gay writer,” “mega Jewish writer,” “Canadian writer” and his melancholic, biting-yet-funny essays with There is no answer as to why me: A Dance Tribute to David Rakoff.
The title comes from Rakoff’s no-rhyme-or-reason explanation as to why cancer would quickly take his life last year at age forty-seven.
“The show is reflective and other-than-‘happy holidays’ and The Nutcracker,” says French, the theater’s out founding artistic/executive director. “That was not the vibe I was going for. I thought, ‘What a fun way to celebrate one of my favorite writers, using dance, music, and film, along with recorded versions of him reading his work.’”
A prolific writer and actor, Rakoff gained fame with numerous contributions to NPR’s This American Life, including The Scorpion and Tortoise and Christmas Freud, in which he psychoanalyzed holiday shoppers as Sigmund Freud in a window at Barneys department store in Manhattan.
Two of Rakoff’s essay collections won Lambda Literary Awards, while another was honored with the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He adapted the script and portrayed the neurotic, chain-smoking half of a gay couple in The New Tenants, winner of the 2009 Academy Award for best live action short film. It can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=hBFLJmIVZlo.
“He was both loved and hated for his neurotic self-absorption and brutal, unflinching wit,” notes French. “While always entertaining, each piece of his work also expresses profound truth about what it is to live—and die—with meaning.
“Being gay infuses everything he wrote about,” she adds. “I don’t know if that’s why I like him so much.”
For example, as a youngster visiting a farm, Rakoff realized he wasn’t cut out for manual labor or the great outdoors. “But he was also attracted to the men,” says French.
In FrenetiCore’s show, out dancer Chad Peters performs to the experience of watching friends die with AIDS in the 1980s. “It comes from Rakoff’s last book, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish,” explains French. “His character was Cliff, a young man who’s swept up in the glamour and thrill of the gay scene in San Francisco in the seventies, and then suffers through the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
“It’s a time when nobody knows what AIDS is or what is happening to their bodies,” she adds. “The piece goes through all the emotions, from anger to acceptance. It’s the most emotional point of the show.”
In addition to hearing recordings of Rakoff’s voice reading his work, French says audiences “will tap their toes” to electronic music, piano, and even Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.
The show is comprised of five eight- to twelve-minute pieces, three choreographed by French and one each by guest choreographers Ashley Horn and Aileen Mapes.
The cast of fifteen includes French, who says, “David Rakoff is hilarious, but sweet. He makes me want to dance and add my voice to his.” In a show last year, French performed a romantic duet with her then-girlfriend Brit Wallis.
A male duet featuring real-life partners Shohei Iwahama and Ruben Trevino was a highlight of FrenetiCore’s recent twist on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which was reconceived as The Rite of Summer, with French’s contemporary physical moves combined with original atonal and dissonant music by laptop musician Chris Becker.
FrenetiCore was the resident home of Unhinged Productions when the gay theater troupe performed such shows as The Laramie Project.
What: There is no answer as to why me: A Dance Tribute to David Rakoff
When: 8 p.m., December 6–7, 9, and 13–14
Where: FrenetiCore Dance Theater, 5102 Navigation Blvd.
Tickets: Presale tickets are $15; $20 at the door and $25 reserved seating. Monday, December 9, is pay-what-you-will. The ticketing link ishttps://freneticore.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0Sd0000004CzlvEAC.
Info: freneticore.net or 281/384-1036.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Elf’s Jeff Rizzo in this issue of OutSmart.