9/26/14 – OBERON 

To express, in an honest manner—through the mediums of dance, song, and drama—the emotional resonance of a series of joyful, romantic, and painful experiences is the difficult and intricate challenge the George Woods band, choreographer Jennifer Crowell-Kuhnberg, and a cast of dancers face in “Heartbeat: A Modern Dance Rock Concert.”

George Woods, the primary force behind the show, told me about the genesis of the show a few months ago. It’s a story I won’t try to explain in depth (listen to the album or watch the DVD of the show!), but in short, it describes the events and feelings leading up to and involving George Woods’ relationship with his now-fiancée, Heather Smist. The entire piece is based on a concept album he wrote called Heartbeat, a narrative-driven work complete with images and colors.

The club-like venue OBERON, one of the many stages of the America Repertoire Theatre (A.R.T.), is an incredible, flexible performance space. A huge crescent bar lines the back of the venue, just below the balcony housing the camera, as well as sometimes the trumpet player or the dancers. During the show, two giant cube-shaped platforms, originally centered in the middle of the venue, moved around the venue as they became props for dancers to stand on.

As a precursor to the main show, George Woods picked opener “That One Eyed Kid,” a band with personable lyrics, a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds forming oceanic soundscapes, and giddy, eccentric grooves.  The power of Josh Friedman’s voice instantly got everyone listening.

When “Heartbeat” started, we all became engrossed in the story. After each song, you could hear everyone in the audience trying to orient themselves. Who did the girl in the yellow dress in his life represent? Was the wedding supposed to be a real wedding or a fantasy? What did he mean when he sang, “There’s two people in the way and we both know their names?” Who were those two names? We became part of the story when we were invited into a wedding in the concert hall, where we shared the floor with the ensemble dancers. “This is my wedding, so you all better dance!” Woods yelled to the crowd.

To put on a show with emotion and intensity requires the dancers to feel themselves as a part of it. According to George, the male lead, Keil Coit, who plays George, is in a sense a method actor. During rehearsals, people would sometimes mistakenly call Keil by the name George. The music, lighting, and choreography worked together to make us see and feel what the main characters were feeling. Someone even cried out, “No, but you’re married!” when the lead danced with another girl. (The marriage, we understood after talking to George, was indeed a fantasy.)

Jen Kuhnberg’s choreography worked intricately with the music; the ensemble dancers made the bigger moments raise our excitement and the smaller, more poignant moments make us feel. The two main lead dancers had a beautiful chemistry that captured the love between George and Heather.

My only critique of the show is that it was sometimes hard to follow. A show this visceral shouldn’t be extremely clear, but George Woods could have played a bigger part and guided the show, like he does in the DVD version. Nevertheless, “Heartbeat” is an incredible experience, and if you haven’t already, you should check out the DVD and buy it to help bring the show on the road.

Heartbeat: A Modern Dance Rock Concert
  • An unique, immersive experience
  • Interactive
  • Story a little difficult to follow
9.1Overall Score

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