Productions like Susan Stroman’s Tony-winning Contact and Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man have shown how powerfully and effectively contemporary dance can tell dramatic stories without a single spoken word being uttered.  To that list can now be added JT Horenstein’s The Question, an Alfred Hitchcock-esque romantic thriller told through dance.

The Question, which bills itself as “an Indie Rock Ballet,” is based on writer-director-choreographer Horenstein’s experiences while sitting on a jury for a first-degree murder trial.  It imagines, in Hitchcock fashion, a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time, falsely accused of murder.  Providing a musical backdrop to the story are tracks by indie rock artists Inara George, Jamie Cullum, and The Faint, among others.

First to be introduced among the cast of characters is Ellen (the lovely Jennifer Hamilton) as she dons a sexy red dress in preparation for a date with handsome boyfriend Chris (Kevin Stea), to the strains of “Right As Wrong” by Inara George.  Jamie Cullum’s jazzy “Twenty Something” provides the backdrop for Chris and James (Julius Rubio) as they too get ready for the evening ahead, Chris for his date with Ellen and tough guy James for a night with hooker Marianna (Melissa Emrico).

Yoav’s funky “Club Thing” serves as backdrop to James, Marianna, and Marianna’s pimp Lou (D. Valentine) as they await entry to a popular dance club.  Inside the club, Chris proposes to Ellen, with the Spanish guitars of Sean Hayes’s Latin-themed “All For Love” as background. Sadly for Chris, his proposal is turned down.  Even sadder for him is seeing his beloved Ellen accidentally shot to death by Lou.  Saddest of all is his decision to pick up the murder weapon just as the police arrive. 

The entire murder sequence is choreographed in slow motion to Sigor Ros’s “Untitled,” one of the evening’s most exquisitely-danced moments in a production filled with exquisite dancing and choreography.

Seven months later, Marianna is pregnant and Chris is on trial for murder.

As I am not a dance connoisseur, I can only comment on the production as a theatergoer, but for this reviewer at least, The Question merges dance at its most vibrant and theater at its most compelling to powerful effect.

Horenstein’s sensational dance numbers, fifteen in all, run the gamut from balletic to jazz to Latin to urban funk, performed by some of the best and best-trained dancers in town.  (Many are EDGE faculty or scholarship alumni.)

Stea is absolutely magnetic as Chris, charismatic, graceful, and gorgeous, and Hamilton proves equally exquisite as the doomed Ellen. Rubio and Emrico give James and Marianna a rougher “street” edge, and Valentine is suitably slimy as Marianna’s pimp. Carin Noland has a beautiful solo as the lone juror to seem in doubt about Chris’s guilt.

The exceptional ensemble is completed by Demian Boergadine, Joelle Martinec, Bill Prudich, Anthony Marciona, Laura Fremont, Ambrose Respicio III, Kyle Hill, LJ, Emmie Nagata, Audrey Douglass, KC Monnie, Aundrea Fant, Charlie Williams, Chandrae Roettig, Julie Schmid, MJ, Casey Johansen, Lexi Contursi, Marko Germar, Donyelle Jones, Derrick Schrader, and swings Anna Schnaitter and Kelly Allen.

Contributing greatly to the beauty and power of The Question are the as always stellar designs of Jared A. Sayeg (lighting) and Stephen Gifford (set). Sayeg’s lighting provides a striking visual counterpart to the mood and tone of each dance, while Gifford makes creative use of black chairs on a black stage, with a final stairway (literally) to heaven making the performance’s climax all the more emotional.  Mekhell Cassagnol’s costumes make effective use of colors, particularly red and white.  

Kelly Allen assisted Horenstein’s direction and choreography, with additional choreography created by Denise Leitner.

The Question’s limited two-week engagement at the Montalban is one well worth seeing, by lovers of dance and of musical theater as well. There’s nothing else like it in L.A. right now, and that alone makes this Question something special indeed.

The Montalban, 1615 Vine St. Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
March 11, 2009
                                   Photos: (l.) (r.) Brian Putnam

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