The Neta Dance Company: Jill in Brazil and The Orchid Show

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Presented by The Bat Theater and The Neta Dance Company, at The Flea Theater, Feb. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17-25.

The wild imagination of choreographer Neta Pulvermacher is highly infectious. She stumbled across a musical selection about orchids, leading her to research the flower and concoct "The Orchid Show," a wacky dance-theatre work that debuted last summer and has now sprouted a new episode, "Jill in Brazil." Her nine-year-old son found himself steering the work's wickedly comic sensibility, while Pulvermacher's troupe of game dancers collaborated with her in the making of inventive swamp creature choreography inspired by the striking shapes and mating behaviors of flowers, plants, and amphibious animals. Maile Okamura, who opens this kid-friendly performance with a cheerfully danced solo trek down a river of lily pads, led the company's efforts to convert day-glo colored vinyl and patches of fake, "Easter-basket" grass into brilliant costumes.

Perhaps the most imaginative element in this whimsical feast of theatrical creativity is the character of Jill St. John, who serves as the hostess of what feels like an old-time, themed television variety program. She treats us to songs, dances, letters from listeners, a cooking segment, a travelogue—during which Jill gets lost in the Brazilian jungle hunting down a rare orchid specimen—and natural history lectures and anecdotes about orchids. Jill is portrayed, in equal parts, by Jeremy Laverdure (whose sizeable hairy arms and legs poke out of his '50s house dress with amusing incongruity) and Tami Stronach, who provides the recorded voice to which Laverdure "lip-syncs." Stronach effectively adopts an insufferable, upper-crust speech affectation, adding a marvelous layer of absurdity to an already outlandish character.

Pulvermacher's contagious fancy motivates not only her fellow artists but her audience as well. When tickled by such an inconceivable combination of ideas, one is both riveted by the incredible goings-on and stimulated to unleash one's own imagination. While watching the seemingly silly "Orchid Show," one could be led to ponder the values of beauty versus functionality, nature versus affectation, and how the childhood experience manifests itself in adulthood—or not, depending on one's personal feelings about orchids.

More reviews on pages 46 & 56.