Anytown is nowhere. The mongrel dance-theater show, currently being toured by Shapiro and Smith Dance, is supposed to be one of those universal, everyman things, but in this case, lack of specificity does not equal generality. Although the piece has its moments, it will remain memorable only for being the least interesting art I've ever seen presented by Duke Performances, which brought the show to Reynolds Theater on March 23.
I don't think the dancers were having a particularly good night, but the real problem lay in the choreographic execution of the concept. It was mushy – not so much in the sentimental sense, but aesthetically. It lacked tension, contrast, intensity; and physically, it lacked daring. And it was formulaic: mix some working-class hero-worship with a little post-9/11 bafflement and some easy patriotism and voila! – it's all about community. The moves were small without being modest, and although there were some striking moments of emotional honesty (mostly by Joanie Smith), the overall effect was one of contrivance without excessive effort.
The whole thing was puzzling, actually. The dances were set to songs by Bruce Springsteen, Patty Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell — writers and musicians whose songs serve as models of the power of storytelling and the emotional capacities of rock music. I'd been expecting dancing as exquisitely empathetic as the old Nebraska album, or as emotionally shredding and cathartic as The Rising. Who would have thought you could make something boring to Springsteen's "Youngstown," or something sentimental to the banked ashes of misery in "Empty Sky?" Or, for heaven's sake, something draggy to "Born in the U.S.A."? The final dance, according to the program, was supposed to be done to "Glory Days," one of the most danceable songs of the 20th century — but the company didn't dance. They just used the song as background for their bows. What an insult.
However, the worst was yet to come: it turned out that this was not entirely a performance but an elaborate scam. The house lights came up for the finale, and we were treated to the story of Danial Shapiro's cancer comeback and some breathless tripe on the theme of "it's all about community" — and a pitch for donations to promote greater awareness of prostate cancer. A worthy cause, but hardly the way to end an artwork, or even a traveling entertainment.