“Alley of the Dolls” at Joe’s Pub
As Executive Artistic Director and Producer Robin Staff joked with me just before Nicole Wolcott and Vanessa Walter’s Alley of the Dolls, seen last Thursday night at Joe’s Pub as part of DanceNow’s Spring Featured Artist Series: “Nicole just wants to be a rock star.” And, as dancers go, Wolcott is one – fast, hot and unrelenting. But, she’s also a comedic gemstone and in Alley of the Dolls she shines with a slyly welcoming smile as one half of the mini-dressed, big-platinum-wigged, high-heeled twin “dolls” who lead us through the evening’s collection of song, dance, gossip and glam with fembot precision.
However, Walter’s is the twin with a ferocious edge. Wolcott is a star, no doubt. But, Walter’s rocks. Though both performing the same movement vocabulary, she’s clearly wielding the satirical knife – out for blood and ready to cut down ‘our’ idols. Satire is not an easy artistic choice. The work was promoted as a satirical comment on “making it.” However, the bite of satire, its clear ridicule of its subject, doesn’t often make for as much fun as my cocktail and dinner enhanced evening was. And, if anything, the DanceNow programming at Joe’s is meant to be a lot of fun. Alley of the Dolls succeeds in playing with the cabaret setting, creating a party atmosphere by having the dancers (Leslie Cuyjet, Joe Shepard, Stephanie Dixon, Katie Rayle, Gia Mele, and a delightful scene stealing Timothy Edwards) mingling among the audience and helping themselves to patrons’ cocktails during the show. However, except for one ex-Rockette’s (Rayle) bitter expose on boob jobs and costume-created orgasms and Walter’s unwaveringly intimidating and pitiless persona, the ridicule inherent in satirizing the desire for fame is less present in a work that plays out as more of a delightful pastiche.
What I sense isn’t the use of comedy to truly skewer fame-seeking in a socio-political way, but more of a send-up of the realities of backstage bickering and a not-so-latent desire to achieve what the makers are making fun of. The original trashiness of the sources – Jacqueline Susann’s novel-turned-film Valley of the Dolls and one of my long-time late night Russ Meyer favorites (after Faster Pussycat, of course) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – isn’t derided so much as it is amplified in a work ripe with delicious cattiness, cleavage, high heels, and big big hair. So, with semantic nit-picking aside, I notice that Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream frames both the pre- and post-show moments, and can easily see the work as the realization of playful teen desires as understood through the lens of now-veteran artists. We all remember how much we wanted to walk a runway of adoring fans (crunching the bones of our competitors) with wind blown hair and sparkling dresses, but now can measure the human cost of that dream.