Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star
The Owen/Cox Dance Group’s interpretation of ancient Jewish folklore is a thoroughly charming mix of elegant dancing, an exciting original score and a dash of bold theatricality.
“The Golem,” produced by the dance company in collaboration with the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and Paul Mesner Puppets, evokes a distant past but feels utterly contemporary.
Composer/arranger Brad Cox blends traditional Jewish themes with a jazz sensibility and a world-music vibe and assembles an impressive lineup of musicians including saxophonist Mark Southerland and bassist Jeff Harshbarger. Key to the ensemble’s power are violinist Gregory Sandomirsky and particularly drummer/percussionist Sam Wisman.
Choreographer Jennifer Owen constructs a series of evocative dances to illustrate the story of a rabbi who creates a golem — a creature made from clay and brought to life by supernatural powers — to protect his people after accusations that Jews use the blood of Christians to make matzo for Passover.
The tale is a prototype to many cautionary stories that came later.
The rabbi is danced by the charismatic Christopher Barksdale, who probably moves with stunning grace even as he stumbles to the coffeemaker in the morning. He performers opposite Andrew Taft as Thaddeus, the trouble-making villain of the piece, who performs the most difficult choreography in the show and uses an actor’s instincts to create a distinct and memorable character.
The show is at its whimsical best when the rabbi teaches the 12-foot-tall golem (a marvelous piece of puppetry from the Mesner studio) how to dance. The puppet is manipulated by two dancers — Jered Solace and Christopher Dunn, according to the program — and is uncannily human in his responses despite immobile facial features. The blinking eyes help.
Thaddeus kidnaps a young woman, danced by Lisa Thorn, but his evil intentions are ultimately revealed by the golem. In some versions of the tale, the golem becomes an uncontrollable figure bent on destruction. Here, he’s a benevolent entity who is put to rest after completing his task.
The ensemble dancers are quite good and the production is enhanced by Nate Fors’ simple but effective scenic design, Peggy Noland’s costumes and Lauren Libretti’s lighting.
The piece, which was performed twice over the weekend, is broken into two acts — the intermission gives the dancers a chance to catch their breath — but the actual performance time is only about an hour. And in the theater, economical storytelling is always welcome.