Living (and Flying) in the Past

‘Grand Parade’ at Arena Stage is a bizarre take on 20th-century U.S. history

February 7, 2013
Birds and humans ballroom dance in Arena Stage's new experimental show.
Birds and humans ballroom dance in Arena Stage’s new experimental show.

A treadmill. A cage. A bar. The visual metaphors on the set of “The Grand Parade (of the 20th Century),” an experimental theater piece at Arena Stage, suggest a grim view of the past century. The people flying through the air definitely lighten the mood.

“Grand Parade” is an imaginative survey of American history between 1900 and 1999. Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, the Twist dance craze, the fall of the Berlin Wall and other milestones anchor fanciful elements — animal headdresses, actors bouncing around on bungee cords, dialogue crackling from radios and televisions.

The play, which took two years to create, is the product of Double Edge Theatre, an avant-garde company based on a Massachusetts farm. Artistic director Stacy Klein walked us through “Grand Parade’s” many influences and elements.

The Triangle: Three hanging steel apparatuses swing above the stage: a cube, a triangle and a circle. They’re cages, and the show’s six actors are constantly getting trapped inside them and then breaking free.

The Bird Man: The look of “Grand Parade” is inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall, a 20th-century surrealist whose works prominently feature animals and people with animal heads. This rooster appears throughout the show — here he’s ballroom dancing with actress Milena Dabova. “We’re trying to combine the animal world and the human world,” Klein says.

Flying People: “Grand Parade” involves a lot of flying and bungee jumping, but Double Edge’s actors aren’t trained aerialists. “We were tired of being on the ground,” Klein says. The troupe worked with a professional aerialist to create sequences such as one in which James Bond jumps from one hanging apparatus to another, breaking out of prison, flying a plane and landing on the moon.

The Stage: The show was developed for Arena Stage on the 105-acre farm that’s home to Double Edge Theatre. “The size of the stage here is pretty much the size of the barn where we work,” Klein says.

Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW; through Sun., $40; 202-488-3300. (Waterfront/SEU)
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