Jan 23-Feb 08, 2009
No Strings Theatre Company presents "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" by Richard Alfieri, directed by Ceil Herman. The play opens Friday, January 23 and runs through Sunday, February 8, 2009 at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N Downtown Mall, in Las Cruces. The play is an entertaining and heartwarming look at an unlikely relationship that forms between the feisty widow of a Baptist minister (played by Toni Marie) and her outspoken dance instructor (played by Michael Shemwell.) They form a real friendship while dancing the swing, tango, waltz, fox trot, cha-cha-cha, and all the 60's dances. "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" shows it is never too late to learn new steps and make new friends.
Toni Marie is well known to Black Box Theatre audiences. She has been seen as Virginia in "Three Viewings," Emily Dickenson in "Belle of Amherst,", Peggy Guggenheim in "Woman Before A Glass," and most recently as Irene in the World Premiere of "Delicious Nut." Michael Shemwell appeared at the Black Box Theatre in a play reading of "Will" by Deborah LaPorte. Prior to moving to Las Cruces, he was involved in theatre in Cookeville, TN where he appeared as Candy in "Of Mice And Men," Gately in "Private Wars," and Jack in "Jack and Jill." The Scenic Design is by Peter Herman, Lighting Design is by Jessica Kohn and the Costume Designer is Jake Dunlap. Elaine Childs and Danny Wade are working behind the scenes as the Backstage Crew and Board
Local play dances through serious issues
- By Jacob Divett, NMSU Roundup [1/26/09 Section: Arts and Entertainment]
Local actors Toni Marie and Michael Shemwell had their audience alternately laughing and thinking at Friday's opening of the Black Box Theatre's newest play, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.
The play is the story of Lily Harrison, an aging widow who signs up to receive dance lessons in her home, and Michael Minetti, her very unique dance instructor. The arrangement instantly runs into trouble, especially when it is revealed that Lily's deceased husband was a Baptist minister and Michael is gay. While learning dance steps the two also learn to understand each other and cautiously become friends.
"It's everything an audience would like," said Marie, who plays feisty widow Lily Harrison. "It has the music, it has the dance, it has real life."
Other productions of Six Dance Lessons have gotten entangled in the very stereotypes the play rails against, but director Ceil Herman and her crew worked very hard to keep everything accurate. "We had two gay men in the audience and they said that Michael was totally authentic, never over the top," Herman said. "That's what we really were striving for. We knew that it had to be real."
The play crackles with energy and witty dialogue as Lily and Michael careen from explosive arguing to quiet moments of understanding. Lily tries to help Michael not be so cynical, while Michael works to get Lily to live a little.
But none of that could've happened without the dancing, and to get the dances right Herman brought in NMSU senior dance students Alyx Sanchez and Angel Favela to do the choreography. "The play dictated the six dances, but that's about it," Favela said. "It was all up to us to do whatever we wanted to do with it, to take it wherever it went."
Neither actor had a dancing background but Sanchez and Favela worked with them for five weeks. All their hard work paid off in the end, and the choreographers were able to watch their "students" perform on opening night. "We saw it all come together and they just really made all the dances come alive," Sanchez said. "I think the dances were perfect for the story, the social dances where there are two people connecting."
After having a schedule that kept him away for a long time, Shemwell was grateful to have the opportunity to act again. "It's nice to be back on the stage," said Shemwell, who played dance instructor Michael. "It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work. The choreographers really knew their stuff."
Sanchez and Favela worked to integrate the dancing into the momentum of the play. "It just flowed naturally, it never felt 'plugged in,'" Favela said. "It wasn't like 'the play' and then 'the dance act' because the transitions were really smooth." The audience seemed to agree and gave the actors a standing ovation.
Marie gives all the credit to the Las Cruces community and the Black Box Theatre. "I've done a lot of shows other places, but when I came here my craft just soared," Marie said. "This is such a devoted performing arts community and it just feeds you to keep on going."
'Dance Lessons' humorous, heartwarming
An inside look at the life of dance instructor and student
- By Beth Sitzler , Las Cruces Bulletin
Part drama, part comedy - also known as a "dramedy" - "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" offers audiences the opportunity to enter the funny and sometimes lonely lives of a widow and her gay dance instructor.
The play, which is at the Black Box Theatre through Feb. 8, centers around the feisty widow of a Baptist minister named Lily Harrison, played by Toni Marie, and an outspoken gay dance instructor named Michael Minetti, played by Michael Shemwell, and the relationship that forms after weeks of arguing, laughing and dancing.
Taking place in Lily's apartment in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla., the two peform a different dance each week, while learning a little bit more about the other. Each dance lesson is accompanied with a lesson about life and death.
They begin with the swing, which became popular during World War II. From there they move on to the tango, the most sensual and romantic of the Argentine dances; the Viennese waltz, which was the first time a man and woman could dance holding each other; the cha-cha; and contemporary dance moves set to music by the Beach Boys.
No matter the dance, Lily and Michael are dressed for the occasion, with outfits designed by costume designers Elaine Childs and Jack Dunlap. The audience becomes transported into their world thanks to choreographers Angel Favela and Alyx Sanchez, set designer Peter Herman and lighting designer Jessica Kohn.
By the end of the six weeks and after discovering that they are more alike than they had first thought, an unlikely friendship forms between them. Michael's brashness, sharp tongue and tendency to speak before thinking rubs Lily the wrong way, until she realizes all the pain behind it. She in return opens Michael's eyes and encourages him not to become lonely and isolated, like she has become, and to always love life.
After all the fighting, laughing and foul language, it is the dancing that sticks with you, taking you to a happy, simple place, where every man and woman, no matter age, race or sexual orientation, are welcomed.
Marie and Shemwell are wonderful together as Lily and Michael, and their chemistry invites the audience into the story. They make you believe all the pain and humor in their characters and the love they have for one another that results.
As directors, Ceil Heman and Ivy White do a wonderful job bringing Richard Alfieri's written words to life. The crew did a wonderful job creating a fantasyland of dance, humor and pain.
No seating plan has been posted.