By Charlene Baldridge
“In Your Arms,” the new dance-theater pastiche playing in its world premiere at The Old Globe through Oct. 25, is quite a concept. I haven’t seen its like since 2000’s Tony Award-winner, “Contact.”
The “In Your Arms” writers/playwrights/book writers — Douglas Carter Beane, Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Carrie Fisher, David Henry Hwang, Rajiv Joseph, Terrence McNally, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage and Alfred Uhry — provide as many love stories. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens of “Ragtime” fame provide music and lyrics, respectively.
The absolutely brilliant director/choreographer, Christopher Gattelli, who conceived the idea with Jennifer Manocherian, melds all together with the considerable artistry of scenic designer Derek McLane, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Peter Hylenski and music director Steven Malone, who plays keyboard and leads an eight-piece orchestra.
To dazzle one’s eyes and imagination, Gattelli brings a glorious array of dancers, 22 of them. They are all that one might wish for in one’s wildest imaginings — and some are legendary — for instance, Donna McKechnie, Tony Award-winner for her role in the original “A Chorus Line.” She provides continuity and does some fine singing in the title song.
Performed in 140 minutes or so without interval, “In your Arms” is poignant and sad and passionate and is not without a deep sense of humor, particularly in Durang’s “The Dance Contest,” in which four dancers, two from the U.S. and two from Russia, compete in Russia. Jenn Harris is particularly funny as the Russian woman who becomes inflamed with passion for the American, danced by Henry (“Dancing with the Stars”) Byalikov. The others in this vignette are Stephen Bienskie and Haley Podschun.
The work commences with Spencer Clark and Lyrica Woodruff in a classical prologue evoking “Romeo and Juliet,” followed by McKechnie performing Ahrens’ title song, which sets up all that follows.
My particular favorites are Nilo Cruz’s “The Lovers Jacket,” a passionate and percussive flamenco work with Glenda Sol Koeraus, Valero, Byalikov and the company. It travels from the Spanish Revolution to Argentina in the late ’30s. The other segment that set my senses aflame was Beane’s “Artist and Models, 1929,” which matches Jonathan Sharp as a famous artist and Ryan Steele as his model. Sexy to the nth degree.
As a matter of fact, every pairing dripped with sensuality, especially Marija Juliette Abney and Adesola Oskalumi as African lovers intent on migrating to France in Nottage’s “A Wedding Dance.” Just like life, some vignettes are violent and others, fraught with infidelity and disappointment and forgiveness.
Then, when each audience member has made his or her own tenuous connections and sense of overall meaning of the larger work, all of which is performed mostly without dialogue, Gattelli dazzles us with the beauty of 81-year-old George Chakiris, who received an Oscar for his portrayal of Bernardo in the 1961 film of “West Side Story” and went on to enjoy a career in film and television. Chakiris is symbolic of the survivor, who lived for love and beauty and who completes the journey filled with radiance. Indeed, each of us goes home feeling that radiance. What an uplifting and lovely evening.