In the mood for a spring fling?
Savannah Stage Company will open its season at S.P.A.C.E. on Henry Street with the regional premiere of Allan Knee's "Syncopation," a rollicking love story set in 1912. Directed by Brea Cali and performed by Amber Hancock and Bryan Pridgen in the roles of Anna and Henry, the offbeat romantic comedy is not a musical, but classified instead as the only play in the world truly integrated with dance.
Playwright Allan Knee weaves music, dance and dialogue together into a story that develops through the training of two dancing partners. As an unexpected relationship emerges between the young beader and aspiring dancer, Henry and Anna are swept away from their troubles during weekly rehearsals.
Pridgen, in addition to playing Henry, is artistic director of the Savannah Stage Company, which he joined as one of its five founding members in 2012. Pridgen first saw the show performed at a professional theater in Greensboro, N.C., for his birthday while in college.
"I had never heard of it," he said, "but fell in love with the story. The romance between the two characters alone is very appealing, and Brea Cali's vision for this play is not your standard evening at the theater. This play is all about two people discovering each other through dancing. Brea's concept fully manifests that love through physicality. It's one of the most physical shows I've ever been a part of."
Cali's impressive accolades in dance and movement began to roll in right after graduating from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She received multiple national performing credits for her work with independent choreographers, contemporary dance companies, opera houses and musical theaters. In 2007, Brea emigrated to Kassel, Germany, where she was a soloist performer at the illustrious Staatstheater Kassel for five years, under the direction of Johannes Wieland.
"The early 20th century brought about an intense revolution of movement expression, coinciding with the extensive political and social upheavals of that time," Cali said. "Our charismatic dance enthusiast, Henry, is inspired by major dance pioneers of varying styles: husband and wife ballroom dance team Irene and Vernon Castle; modern dancer Ruth St. Denis; Ziegfeld performer Anna Held; and vaudeville entertainer Naomi Glass. By fusing the varying elements of these pioneers, Henry and Anna develop a historical montage of dance together.
Then there's the backdrop of exuberant dance music from the period - the rags and waltzes with which big bands conjure a cityscape rife with factories, railway cafes and riots. Henry and Anna find themselves surrounded by a time of political and social change, struggling to find their place in the world and fulfill their American dream.
Staging a nuanced production with just two actors is both demanding and difficult to orchestrate, but Savannah Stage Company proved its mettle in that department last fall with their haunting rendition of Henry James' "Turn of the Screw."
"Because of the intimacy, the conversation between the performers and the viewers during the performance is an extraordinary experience," Cali said. "Bryan possesses an incredible understanding of subtlety, while Amber's energy leaves you breathless. Their moment by moment exploration indulges the viewer in a fresh experience every time."