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September 28, 2022

Darkly comic, Performa Dance’s ‘The Mad Scene’ skewers our desire for fame

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Never known for his modesty, Louis XIV, aka the Sun King, once proclaimed “In my heart I prefer fame above all else, even life itself.”

Louis XIV also happened to a be a super-fan of ballet, himself an enthusiastic dancer (appeared as the Sun god, Apollo in one ballet), performing at his own court. He founded the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661, the world’s first ballet academy, and thus is credited with (famous for) codifying classical ballet as we know today.

Louis IV and his vanity mark the starting point for “The Mad Scene,” a comically absurdist new dance-drama from PerformaDance.

Performa Dance
“The Mad Scene” mashes up styles from several centuries from over-the-top Baroque to today club and drag scene. by Nadine Latief

The 80-minute ballet richochets around time periods, from the 17th century court to our current ‘age of the influencer’ times. Dancers – many from Ballet Austin — wear a mash-up of towering powdered wigs and sexy cabaret wear, three-inch false eyelashes, juicy red lipstick. The look is akin to the drag ballroom scene.

The two-act comedic drama spins through a musical mash-up too: Mozart, Bellini, Chopin and also Sister Sledge, Donna Summer, Kraftwerk and Lou Reed. One dancer sings a song by Earth, Wind and Fire.



Performa Dance artistic director Jennifer Hart teamed up with physical theater artist Kelsey Oliver to create 80-minute ballet that’s interspersed with three short video sequences.

“The Mad Scene” skewers our craving for fame, timeless as it is (n.b. Louis IV) but now even more magnified in the digital landscape. Now, everybody can make public their private world — perform their lives for an audience of strangers.

Performa Dance
Dancer Ed Carr in the “The Mad Scene.” Photo by by Nadine Latief

“With the democratization and ubiquity of social media, the collapse of a private world, and the rise of the ‘influencer,’ we all have the opportunity — or misfortune — to realize our 15 minutes of fame,” said Hart.

Oliver plays an emcee/jester of sorts, popping in between scenes to offer commentary, encouraging the audience to cheer, boo or shout out “you’re perfect,” the analog performance equivalent of tapping ‘like’ on social media.

“My character is a verbal guide that’s a little bit menacing, very nonlinear, and most definitely a jokester of interactivity,” Oliver says. “She forces you to chew on the obtuse concept of celebrity throughout the show, and the ways we participate in this raucous game of fame and favor.”

In contrast to ballet tradition, where typically a single choreographer creates and dancers are the human instruments, Hart says “The Mad Scene” is a true collaboration. The dancers fleshed out their characters, helped determine their costumes, and riffed on Hart’s always-impressive choreography that’s charged with fresh, imaginative movement.

“Really, in the program the credit for choreographer should be ‘all of the dancers’,” Hart says.

“The Mad Scene” has been a long time in the making, thanks to the pandemic. But the human desire for attention never went on pause.

“The longing for fame is timeless,” says Hart.

“The Mad Scene” is at 8 p.m. June 10 and 11 at AustinVentures StudioTheater, Ballet Austin, 501 W. Third St. Tickets: performadance.org/the-mad-scene


Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzinhttps://sightlinesmag.org
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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