Studio 5, City Center, New York NY; October 19, 2013

Jerry Hochman

Question: What’s the difference between a performance by General Mischief Dance Theatre and entertainment at a child’s birthday party? Answer: Nothing. Except that the party isn’t just for children, the performers are highly competent dancers, and you go to see them at a theater. And it’s much better.

General Mischief Dance Theatre presented a program of intelligent silliness to an audience of approximately one hundred at City Center Studio 5, a large, bare performing space within the City Center building. The short program (it lasted an hour, including an ‘intermission’ during which the dancers welcomed audience members to join in the fun) consisted of three skits: “Buzz 2.0,” choreographed by company co-founder Emily Smyth Vartanian; The Shell Game,” also choreographed by Ms. Vartarian; and five dances called “Suite Shel,” an homage of sorts to humorist Shel Silverstein (“Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”) collectively choreographed by Celine Rosenthal, Ms. Vartarian, and company dancer Pushpanjali Sharma.

Parts of the program were comic, parts were silly (at several points resembling a Marx Brothers skit), parts were semi-serious, and all of it was entertainingly performed by the company dancers (called “Artists of Mischief”): Ms. Vartanian, Ms. Sharma, Andrea Steiner, Gia Lisa Krahne, Jane Abbot, Dare Harlow, Alisa Fendley, and Gautam Nima (the only male dancer of the group). I particularly liked “The Shell Game,” in which the nattily-dressed dancers strut like panther cats in a pseudo-Fosse routine to the Pink Panther theme song, while exchanging top hats. One of these hats, the ‘shell’ in the shell game, has a different color lining from the others. Ultimately, the audience is asked to locate that hat on a cat.

I have one criticism of the performance – there’s no way to match a dancer with a name in the program, and consequently no way to highlight an individual performance. Suffice it to say that they were all energetic and likeable, more intent on entertaining than self-promotion – which is the way it should be. The youthfulness of most of the dancers (one of whom, a sprite who ‘entertained’ the audience during intermission, looked not much older than the children in the audience) was a plus in terms of the absence of self-consciousness and connecting with the audience, and the more experienced dancers, while no less entertaining, lent a note of polish to the performance. I understand that the company also performs aerial dances in other programs, from which this particular program may have benefited as well.

Be that as it may, General Mischief Dance Theater is fun way to spend an hour, particularly with children in tow. And the pleasure of seeing a couple of children taking the performers up on an invitation to join them on the stage/dancefloor was a bonus.