Artistry takes the dominant role in SB Dance’s ‘Surrenderella’
By Daisy Blake Special to The Tribune
First Published Jun 18 2015
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In a conversation before the opening of SB Dance’s “Surrenderella,” artistic director Stephen Brown said the company picked BDSM as subject matter for its latest show because it needed a theme that justified the use of stunt harnesses. This is kind of like saying the author E.L. James wanted to write a novel about ties, so she came up with “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“Surrenderella” is an old-fashioned fairy tale with a dominant sprinkling of cutting-edge kink: BDSM is defined as involving a variety of erotic practices including dominance and submission, role playing and bondage.
The show loosely tells the story of Cinderella, with the stepmother played with slinky iciness by Annie Kent. Payden “Pay Pay” Adams portrays Surrenderella, named by his stepmother and given access to the fetish-heavy balls held by The Captain. The show charts his journey from bumbling naiveté to supple mastery over BDSM techniques in the final stage picture.
The company always aims to combine jaw-dropping athleticism with a liberal dose of humor, and that is why the show succeeds so completely; it doesn’t take itself too seriously. At times, the BDSM portrayed is overlaid with, for example, “Pride and Prejudice”-style group dancing, so the performers delicately bow at each other before partaking. The Captain, played with sparkle and verve by Nathan Shaw, spices up the balls with peppy mainstream musical-style bopping. There is one scene that is essentially a classic pas de deux, but presenting a bondage ballet. The show also incorporates the “furry” phenomenon with humor; the mice depicted are cute and mischievous rather than overly sexual.
The sequences that solely portray BDSM, without the humor, are stunning in themselves; though perhaps marginally less engaging. The four stunt harnesses used in the show, invented and customized by Brown, enable some intensely memorable stage pictures. The practices portrayed become ritualistic, rhythmic and beautiful, simply because of the ultra-refined talent of the performers. They dancers look at ease, but I am sure they are also stretched to capacity.
The direction is insanely tight with absolutely no room for error, which also shows the high standards SB Dance demands from its performers. Brown is credited in the program as creator, writer, choreographer, rigger and rearer, while Winnie Wood is director, costumer, wrangler and repairer.
The production values are alluring; the lighting is zippy, bold, almost circus style; while the costumes are a delight for the eyes, particularly the colored corset-and-heels combos the women wear. The set and props are minimal; the apparatus is allowed to shine.
It’s difficult to say whether viewers will find the show offensive. To me, observing BDSM practices is interesting, rather than titillating. It’s just like watching a show about any activity I don’t know much about; the subject could be unicycle riding, or carrot planting, though granted, I’m sure BDSM is more visually pleasing. If you haven’t seen an SB Dance show before, it may push back the boundaries of what you are used to, but it’s made clear that all the practices are consented to by the characters, which makes it easier to watch.
There are social events around every performance, culminating in a “Dads in Drag” party on Saturday, the night before Father’s Day, where everyone who attends is invited to cross-dress. On Friday, there will be a preshow social.
“Surrenderella” might well nudge you out of your comfort zone, but as with all good art, I don’t see that as a bad thing. The only question I was left with is where on Earth SB Dance will go after this. The company has plumbed the depths of sexual deviation; what’s next? I would advise not going for shock value in the next production but focusing solely on the incredible artistry of the company; we will likely still be left with our jaws on the floor.