Thursday, November 15, 2001

Dancing with . . . astrophysics?

'Nova Town' whimsical performance art with a message

By Carol Norris
Enquirer contributor

        Ordinarily a play that's mostly tap dancing and singing means that light-hearted genre called musical theater. You picture Anything Goes or No, No Nanette and big rousing tap numbers. But Nova Town is no ordinary musical.

        The play has music, dancing and acting but is better described as performance art, says Rhythm in Shoes director/choreographer Sharon Leahy.

    What: Contemporary Dance Theater presents Rhythm in Shoes in “Nova Town.”
    When: 8:30 p.m. today and Saturday
    Where: Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center for the Arts, downtown.
    Tickets: $17 and $20, $12 students and seniors at the Aronoff and Music Hall box offices, Ticketmaster locations, 241-7469 or
        “In a musical, actors break into song. There's none of that,” she says. “Plus it's about astrophysics.”

        “It's out of Rick's head — the book and the music,” Ms. Leahy says. “It's always been his interest — astrophysics. It's his idea that what happens among astro bodies happens to people on earth, too.”

        That's Rick Good, Rhythm in Shoes composer. He wrote the work's jazzy, bluesy songs and created the story. Rhythm in Shoes is the popular and innovative Dayton, Ohio-based tap and swing group. They will perform Nova Town this weekend at the Aronoff Center.

Look up, not down

        Astro thoughts started flashing through Mr. Good's head about 15 years ago, when he began assembling bits and pieces for the story line. It started with the idea that people are too short-sighted, always looking down. He wanted to convince people to look up and beyond themselves.

        What developed was a dance and theater piece laid out like a play with that format's standard arc and conclusion, but with its focus pointed skyward.

        “This is looking at the heavens, correlating heaven with earth. A nova gets too big and explodes in on itself and a dark hole happens. That happens with people too,” Ms. Leahy says. The piece, set in a city gone to seed, gets into metaphysics, too, the subject of spiritual philosophies, she adds.

        These elements combine in a whimsical approach with tinges of film noir, beat poetry and sci-fi “and some fabulous tapping from our two leads, Nate Cooper and Beth Butler,” Ms. Leahy says. “And it's got some hilarious moments. As director, and having worked on it so long, I still laugh.”

"Lots of layers"

        Fifteen performers equally divide into dancers, musicians and actors, then cross over into each other's territories.

        When the work premiered in Dayton last year, it ran for three nights.

        “People kept coming back. You can enjoy it for its songs and dances, but it has lots of layers, too. If you want to go deeper you can,” Ms. Leahy says.

        Nova Town has its touching moments as well as parts that provoke anger. Is Ms. Leahy reaching for a particular reaction?

        “My judge of effective performance art is "Do I think about it and discuss it later; does it spur on conversation and interaction?' This is how I want people to react — not to forget about it as they walk out the door.”

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