Last weekend saw two local theater companies, ARENA Dances [review here] and Ballet of the Dolls, celebrate another year with yearly benefit shows. The latter hosted its fifth annual “Fashion Ball,” a highly entertaining, irreverent mashup of short dance pieces and runway segments at the Ritz Theater on Friday and Saturday nights.
Fashion has long been a touchstone for the Dolls. Established in 1986 by famed choreographer Myron Johnson (who has also lended his expert eye to the Macy’s Glamorama fashion show for as many years), the dance company is known as much for its over-the-top costuming as it is for its genre-blending, cheeky storylines and its eclectic cast of dancers -- a mix of slim and curvy, black and white, gay and straight. And as the Dolls have often used dance to explore ideas of identity and transformation, so too has their costume designer Grant Whittaker with his gender-bending, eye-popping confections.
This year’s show, dubbed “Dollnation,” followed the glamorous motley crew as they traveled through myriad scenarios, styled as different variations of dolls. Voodoo dolls came to life on the Broadway stage; big-shouldered, big-haired dolls paid homage to “Dynasty”; space dolls set foot on earth; and horror dolls sock hopped in a jukebox. Looks from local designer Lindsey Hopkins, designer boutique Grethen House and upscale consignment shop Fashion Avenue graced the runway in corresponding fashion segments styled with over-the-top wigs by Denny Kemp, mixing haute couture with lowbrow humor -- such as clown noses and wigs decorated with trash. As usual, Whittaker outdid himself, concocting personality-packed looks for the show’s 11 dancers and eight models in nine individual scenes while pulling double duty as one of the show’s dancers.
With original video segments by Zach Peterson, theatrical lighting, a booming soundtrack, top Twin Cities modeling talent from Vision and Ignite and ever-imaginative choreography from Johnson, the production itself was as seamless and stunning as Glamorama, which undoubtedly has a much larger budget and staff. And as usual, the Dolls’ loyal following packed the house both nights, showing that there indeed is an appetite for experimental dance and fashion alike.
[Photos by John Lombardi, courtesy Ballet of the Dolls]