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Gala Theatre at Tivoli Square

Remaining Performances:

Wednesday, July 24, 6:15 p.m.
Friday, July 26, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 28, 3:15 p.m.

They say: “Expressive heads on zany characters tumble and bounce, bringing head idioms to life. Reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s era, heady collectibles uses ragtime music, physical comedy, dance and poetry to illustrate “hothead,” “airhead,” “out of my head” and many more.”

Ian’s Take: If you were to rank the generally-perceived accessibility of various kinds of theatrical arts, you might start out with a big crowd-pleaser like musical theater at the top, work your way down through non-musical theater, orchestral music, opera, ballet, and various other disciplines until you arrived, brow furrowed and uncomprehending, at interpretive dance. Sure, maybe you took that class in college that one time for a combined arts/physical education credit where you and a dozen other hungover undergrads gathered unhappily at 8 a.m. to learn how to use your body to convey the mood of a tree. You got your passing grade and a basic understanding that dance can mean a lot of different things. But that hasn’t necessarily translated into rushing out to buy season passes to the Kennedy Center’s contemporary dance program.

heady collectibles, created and choreographed by Deep Vision Dance Company founder Nicole A. Martinell, goes a long way toward clearing away the air of serious impenetrability surrounding modern dance.

Martinell’s concept is simple: as she explains in a direct address introduction, the show sprang from her own fascination with “head idioms,” the legions of figures of speech that use the word and the idea of the head. Heads are sort of important to us, and it’s from that notion that Martinell constructs the show. Dance may be a whole body idiom, but this show leads with the head and lets the bodies follow.

The company consists of six dancers led by Martinell’s collaborator, Sam Hopkins, who begins the show with a prologue in which she responds to mostly abstract readings from Martinell’s own journal. This part of the show grabbed me the least, mostly just reinforcing my long-held belief that journal writings, unless you happen to be a teenage girl hiding from Nazis in the 1940s, should remain private things.

After that, though, there was not a moment that was less than fully entertaining. Martinell’s company ran through a series of brief dance sketches that, while all wordless and abstract on the surface, never failed to convey whatever idea or idiom was the inspiration for any given segment. Some concentrated on the head as a driving force, leading the sometimes hapless body in its wake. Sayings like “putting our heads together” or “heavy hangs the head” are creatively literalized. The expressive force of the face is explored in the tantrums of young children. The head is sometimes isolated by dancers using open-ended boxes to contain their body, creating living jack-in-the-boxes.

Ragtime tunes accompany most of the proceedings, and tend to accentuate the vaudevillian and slapsticky aspects of her choreography. At times the control and fluidity of the movements make the dancers seem slightly outside the realm of reality; they’re animations come to life, like a live-action take on Fantasia. With a trim running time of well under an hour, it’s over almost too quickly, leaving in your head the happy strains of the “Maple Leaf Rag” and, probably as Martinell intended, the desire to see more of this kind of inventive dance performance.

See it if: You’re looking for a modern dance gateway drug with a euphoric high and minimal side effects before you start hitting the hard stuff like Isadora Duncan and Merce Cunningham.

Skip it if: You tried watching that Buster Keaton movie that one time and it still kind of irks you that no one would just, you know, SAY SOMETHING.