Houston-based Psophonia Dance Company has proven itself again to be a thoroughly modern dance ensemble in every sense of the word. In their returning Cincy Fringe appearance, the ensemble once again addresses contemporary issues with fun, flair and plenty of enjoyable dancing.
Through a series of lively, colorful vignettes, Money Back Guaranteed explores a range of modern money and material possession concerns, from a woman shopping for things she doesn’t need to a story of mortgage debt wreaking havoc on a family’s livelihood and beyond.
In addition to Jazz-flavored modern choreography, the performers deliver a sense of theatricality with humor and a large dose of lightheartedness. They dance, speak, act, chant — and occasionally even sing — as if they mean it. In feel, the sketches bring a little Broadway and a little burlesque, but apart from some slightly saucy showgirl-style kicks and moves in the opening number sexuality doesn’t play much of a role.
The women of Psophonia complement one another and, apart from some minor unison issues, perform well together as a group. They project a sense of ease and look comfortable lifting and partnering with each other. In fact, they make much of their skilled, dynamic dancing look easy. “Supporting” and “manipulating” one another, both literally and figuratively, also resonate well with the money theme.
Five of the six female performers begin the show seated among the audience and call out banter in response to Jonnesha Hawkins-Minter’s opening monologue: “fine print,” “buzzkill” and so on. She details the “fine print” of a money back guarantee for the audience that’s subject to hefty and often hilarious restrictions.
In the middle of this explanation, she informs the audience that we'll be granted time to tweet and/or text at one point during the show — all clever, contemporary ways to draw the audience into the performers’ world.
Props are plentiful and for the most part, very effective: small rugs, a rolling cart, boxes, clothing and so on. But I’d rather not give too much away…
Color also plays a significant role: red means temptation, specifically shopping for sexy sandals, a purse, dresses, shopping bags, an apple and more. Then red paper shows up again in the form of unpleasant mail: overdue bills, disconnection and eviction notices an so on. Costumes are eye-catching and often changing, starting with a riot of various black-and-white prints with flouncy short skirts over patterned tights. This carefree frivolity went well with the “material girl” themes.
In a more somber moment, Jessica Prachyl sits beside a red dollhouse and recounts a sad yet all-too-common story of a family’s moving into a downward financial spiral caused by a steep a mortgage coupled with the loss of a job. All spoken word sections are delivered with power, energy and creative variety.
Jeremiah DiMatteo’s sound design in tandem with the accompanying music matches the shifting moods and runs a stylistic gamut: Beastie Boys, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Buena Vista Social Club and more. A handful of Beatles tunes performed by other artists brings a fresh perspective to classics. Lyrics play a role as a kind of morality tale, as does the recorded voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Overall, the show, which clocks in at a little over an hour, is delightfully entertaining and well-paced. My primary criticism would be that it doesn’t offer any resolution, leaving the final vignettes with loose ends despite some feel-good nightclub moves and the dancers’ choruses of Chic’s “Good Times.” Although the final moments — set to John Lennon’s “Imagine” — are pleasing, I left longing for a stronger sense of completion. The lyric, “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can” has seldom rung more true.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)