Shall We Dance: How to Dance Funny
Saturday’s Voyeur 2008: 30th anniversary production
by Amy Brunvand
Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.
One thing about Utah, we always have the best scandals. By comparison, the stuff that goes on in other places can seem just plain tawdry—a politician caught with his pants down, someone with a hand in the cookie jar, that sort of thing. But Utah-style ignominy unfolds in intricately plotted dramas. Who can forget Mark Hoffman and the “white salamander” forgery, or cold fusion, or the star-crossed romance between Congresswoman Enid Greene and Joe Waldholtz?
Then there are the everyday absurdities like Gayle Ruzicka, polygamists, Utah liquor laws or what happens during pretty much any session of the Utah Legislature.
In fact, for the past 30 years the news from Utah has supplied enough absurdity to keep “Saturday’s Voyeur,” the annual Utah parody from the Salt Lake Acting Company, fresh and funny every single year. (Well, maybe except for that one time in 2005 when Nancy Borgenicht, the comic genius behind the show, let G.W. Bush and the Iraq war get to her, but that just proves my point that scandals from outside Utah tend to be overly humorless) [Ed. note: I, for one, loved SV 2005-gbdj.]
In any case, the 30th anniversary episode of “Saturday’s Voyeur” is rolling-on-the-floor funny (as long as, or especially if, you don’t mind some raunchy jokes). Kudos to Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht for yet another hilarious script. But “Saturday’s Voyeur” is a musical revue, not stand-up comedy, so it’s only fair to mention that a lot of the laughs come from some extremely funny dances.
Try to imagine, for instance, a pas-de-deux danced by scowling Utah State Senator Chris “this baby is black” Buttars and the abovementioned Gayle Ruzicka. Are you finding this hard to picture? Well, Cynthia Fleming has not only imagined it, she has choreographed it and put it on stage.
Fleming has choreographed dances for 11 episodes of “Saturday’s Voyeur” and she is also the director of audience relations for the Salt Lake Acting Company. (She’s the tall blonde with a gorgeous smile who encourages you to buy season tickets before the show.) She says she got involved with “Voyeur” by way of Broadway (the one in New York City, that is): “I grew up in Utah, and I was a product of a wonderful musical theatre program at the U of U. It was a combined music/theatre /dance program, and they don’t have it any more. I went to California, got into ‘A Chorus Line’ and stayed with the show until it closed in 1990. Then I thought, I could do theatre in Utah.”
At the time she thought of herself as a dancer. She says, “Being a choreographer was something I never aspired to be. I wanted someone to tell me what to do, but a friend was in town and he said, I need a tango. Why don’t you choreograph me a tango?” From there, she ended up writing dances for “Voyeur” and uncovered her hidden talent for comedy: “Julie Jenson, who’s our resident playwright, first brought it to my attention,” says Fleming. “The nature of “Voyeur” is that it’s funny and I was just doing my job. It was Julie who first said to me ‘You choreograph funny. How do you do it funny?’”
Locally, Fleming’s dances have gained sufficient notoriety that she was invited to participate in the Repertory Dance Theatre 2008 Iron Choreographer competition, an experience she describes as “like childbirth. I’ve never been so scared in my entire life.” Iron Choreographer is not meant to be taken seriously. It is a silly contest where choreographers get some dancers, a secret ingredient and one hour to prepare a dance and present it on stage. Nonetheless, Fleming says that she felt nervous comparing herself to other competitors who teach in academic programs or dance with professional companies. She says, “When they asked me I said, “You know I’m a musical theatre choreographer?” Fleming had her dancers turn around and talk through their butts, which produced a flash of self-awareness: “Iron Choreographer was the first time that it really came out how much ‘Voyeur’ has become part of me as a choreographer,” she says. “It was very clear that I’m a ‘Voyeur’ choreographer.”
But how does she do it funny? “Lately I’ve been thinking about being funny, and it hasn’t stopped the flow,” says Fleming. She gives credit to the writers: “I’m just trying to match Nancy’s words. I never try to be funny. It just happens through Nancy’s words. What I’m trying to do is rise up and showcase Nancy’s lyrics.” She also credits the skilled actors: “I work with these actors who move beautifully. I tell them, all I want you to do is never say no and completely trust me.”
But at the risk of overanalyzing, Fleming’s dances are funny beyond just the lyrics.
Part of it is that when Fleming uses Broadway dances to tell a joke, her affection for Broadway shines through. She describes the process of creating one dance—“So Mayors Tom Dolan and Ralph Becker are fighting for that Broadway-style theater. They have a Broadway dance-off, and I started thinking about ‘West Side Story’ and how they’re getting ready for the rumble. The key is that the dance really is essentially the one you remember from ‘West Side Story.’” And Mario Capecchi’s dancing mice? Straight from Busby Berkeley.
So go to “Saturday’s Voyeur” for what the program promises—“some breathing space in the atmosphere of our very red state,” but while you are there, be sure to appreciate the tap-dancing queer missionaries. u
Amy Brunvand is a dance enthusiast and librarian at the University of Utah.
Saturday’s Voyeur 2008: 30th Anniversary
by Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht (bawdy jokes, bad language, and no attempt whatsoever to bridge the religious divide)
June 4-August 17
Tickets: SLAC box office, 363-7522 or www.saltlakeactingcompany.org/?