Jane Comfort & Co.’s Faith Healing

“everyone has this longing…”

by Christopher Shea

NPN Re-Creation: Jane Comfort and Company’s “Faith Healing” from NPN on Vimeo.

The upcoming NPN-sponsored remount of choreographer Jane Comfort’s deconstructed, dance-based re-telling of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie will feature all the elements that made the 1993 original a hit among critics and audiences alike: A novel mixture of dance and dialogue borrowed from Williams’ original script, scenes in which the classic characters roller-skate to music, and Broadway actor / choreographer Mark Dendy in a forceful, gender-bending portrayal of the matriarch Amanda Wingfield.

The original concept for Faith Healing sprung from Comfort’s 1992 piece Deportment, an exploration of American bigotry that she choreographed for her New York-based troupe, Jane Comfort and Company. The piece — a tale of Southern manners that eventually relocates to New York — featured several scenes from The Glass Menagerie. Shortly after its premiere, Comfort was approached and asked if she wanted to stage a production of the entire Williams script.

Comfort soon began to brainstorm ways to re-tool Williams’ original. “I started thinking about how everyone” in the script “has this longing… these fantasies.” She eventually forged a piece that focused on the dream-lives of the central characters, and included (among other things) live-action re-imaginings of iconic films, which aimed to depict these hidden desires.

Writing in The New York Times, critic Jennifer Dunning praised the dance-theater piece as “profoundly touching,” noting that the filmic allusions actually “deepen[ed] the impact” of Williams’ original. The production earned raves and played to sold-out audiences at P.S. 122 before transferring to off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company.

The idea for a 2010 remount came from Flynn Center director and NPN board member Arnie Malina. “There were some people interested in bringing this work back,” he said, “and I had seen it a long time ago, and knew it was a unique, wonderful piece.” Confident that this would fit the bill for NPN’s 25th anniversary celebration, Flynn contacted other NPN presenters, and asked them to commit to Healing.

For her part, Comfort reveled in the prospect of a remount. Mark Dendy had been urging a revival for years, and Comfort was eager to return to what she sees as a “great high point” for all involved.

In conversation, Comfort, Malina, and dance writer Deborah Jowett all emphasized that the opportunities provided by NPN will make this revival enriching both for performers and the communities where the works are performed. On a normal tour, Comfort explained, “We just go in for two days.” Jowett painted an even bleaker picture: in “the bad old days,” she explained, choreographers would often save up from a year of teaching to perform for one single night. “If you screwed up, you didn’t get a second chance.” Comfort agreed, saying that, for most artists, “it’s true now, too.”

With NPN, however, artists have a residency during which they can work the piece in a new space, design classes for the community, and even, potentially, cast local talent. For Healing’s week-long residency at the Flynn Center, Malina and Comfort have already begun to brainstorm teach-ins about The Glass Menagerie at local high schools, and gesture workshops for area audiences. Comfort’s links with (and enthusiasm for) the National Performance Network extends beyond this collaboration to the early 1980s, when both her own company and NPN had just been founded. Early on, Comfort had trouble booking any tours at all. After several years of mostly fruitless grant-writing, however, her company booked an out-of-town gig in Atlanta through NPN, and “all of the sudden we were in the network.”

“We’ve toured so many times since then,” Comfort explained, “I’m really grateful.”

Faith Healing premiered at North Carolina State University on October 22, 2010 followed by a New York showing at The Joyce Soho October 27-31. The piece will tour to the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, VT, April 4-9, 2011, and to the Florida Dance Festival, June 6-12, 2011.




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