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January 23, 2003

“Much Ado” about tango

Lovers in Shakespeare’s comedies have been likened to dance partners — drawing close, then pushing each other away, posing, pouting, teasing, despairing, only to end up in each other’s arms by the final curtain.

W. Stephen Coleman will crank up the dance imagery in directing Pitt’s upcoming production of a favorite Shakespearean comedy. Coleman has even appended the title to read: “Much Ado About Nothing, or The Dance of Love.”

“As I was re-reading the play, I kept sensing a dance presence,” said Coleman, an associate professor in the theatre arts department. “The script itself calls for two dances and implies a third.”

In Pitt’s production, a six-member dance ensemble will remain on stage for most of the play. Choreographed by Renee Ann Keil and moving to an original score by composer Christine Frezza, the ensemble — and, occasionally, the play’s named characters — will underscore and comment upon the action through dance.

But which dance?

Coleman has set Pitt’s “Much Ado” in 1930s Sicily. As the production opens, veterans of Mussolini’s Ethiopian campaign will be coming home to Messina.

“It was an extremely nasty war in which mechanized forces annihilated an army of people armed with clubs and stone axes,” Coleman noted. “This historical setting added a dark side, because one thing I want to do with the play is bring out what I perceive to be its shadows. It’s a light and frothy comedy at times, but there are also serious issues, not the least of which is the fact that [the young heroine] Hero almost dies because of a terrible deceit.”

“Tango seemed just right,” Coleman said. “The male dancer usually leads, but it’s by suggestion rather than command, and the woman always has a reply. And she can suggest movements, too.”

In Pitt’s “Much Ado,” the premise will be that the tango has just been introduced in Messina, and the characters are caught up in this new dance craze.

“Much Ado About Nothing” will run April 2-19 in Pitt’s new Charity Randall Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial. The theatre, which will be the new main stage for Pitt Repertory Theatre productions, has been undergoing $2 million worth of reconstruction and upgrades.

“Much Ado” will be the first Shakespeare production in the Foster Memorial since 1995, when the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival folded after a 16-year run. This “Much Ado” will reunite former TRSF artists Coleman, composer Frezza and scenic designer Henry Heymann, a Pitt emeritus faculty member.

— Bruce Steele

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