At one point in the entirely delightful Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, Ira Glass observes that Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass imbue their performances with personality just like “real people” as differentiated from more typical dancers with bland facial expressions who spin around. Bingo. This hybrid of two art forms, dance and radio, is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I doubt that anyone else in the large Town Hall audience has either.
Before the performance begins, Elvis music blares, seemingly odd for staid Town Hall, but it turns out to be the perfect warm-up for the following ninety minutes which include recordings (many from Glass’s This American Life on public radio); baton twirling, confetti, a disco ball, (held aloft by an audience member who is advised to revolve), and bubbles. The three acts deal, in a off-beat, slightly goofy way, with being a performer; falling – and staying – in love (which includes a very moving taped account of his wife’s death by former Poet Laureate Donald Hall), and the idea that nothing lasts.
Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass dance side by side, costumed in slinky dresses ablaze with glitter, Rat Pack-style suits and brownish sweaters and skirts. The women’s dancing is super-precise but their movements have nothing to do with traditional and often esoteric dance concepts like moving through space or performing complex leaps. In a few instances, Glass dances with them in a kind of “I’m amazed that I can really do this” way that is utterly charming. Glass is pretty charming throughout whether he’s making balloon animals as he did in high school to earn a few bucks or discussing his marriage as it relates to an interview with a marketer who talks in terms of “consumer satisfaction” and refers to his wife as “the consumer.” Glass tells stories like he does on the radio: about the travails of the Riverdance troupe; about teenage love, about people he has interviewed and some of the time, Bass and Barnes dance, in an abstract manner, about what he’s describing.
Barnes and Bass are smart as well as funny and their steps have as much to do with the kick-line of Chorus Line as anything else. To their credit, because they are obviously highly trained professionals, there’s no dancing on the program that’s gasp-worthy – no fancy footwork or amazing jumps or turns, just as there are no tutus or black leotards. Instead, we get two women who move in perfect synchronization and know, as Bass puts it in an interview with Glass that “we’re simultaneously supporting each other and stealing the spotlight from each other.” Together, they riff on pop music to a Dean Martin song about his love for Las Vegas using punching moves and falls and somehow convey what it means to be an entertainer. Glass, who laughs with the audience, talks while the dancers provide movement that relates to the stories he’s telling
Bass and Barnes have been working together since 2003 and seem to sense exactly what the other is doing. MBB&CO specialize in bringing dance to both known and off-beat venues; they have performed at spaces such as The John F. Kennedy Center and Jacob’s Pillow as well as at comedy festivals, film showings and literary events, although this is the first of their works in which anyone speaks. Glass seems to be having a ball whether dancing or chatting about how good he feels onstage before a (sort of) dance-centric audience. Relating to this work is incredibly easy since it’s very unconventional, down-to-earth and often hilarious. For ninety minutes of joy with a bit of melancholy that adds a grounded, bittersweet edge, catch this brilliant work even if you have to go to Dallas or Anchorage. You won’t be sorry.