Dancers at the Century Ballroom, dancing to the Valse Cafe Orchestra.  Photo by Dan Lamont.

Dancers at the Century Ballroom, dancing to the Valse Cafe Orchestra. Photo by Dan Lamont.

Onsite Review of Masquerade Ball and Valse Cafe Orchestra

Through the On-Site Review program, 4Culture evaluates arts and heritage organizations who receive Sustained Support funding. On-Site Reviewers attend events produced or presented by recipients and write up short reviews, which give the adjudicating Sustained Support panelists a patron’s-eye-view of each organization.  Each month, the 4Culture blog presents excerpts from these reviews.  This month’s review is by Allison Shirk.

The event, on January 31 at Capitol Hill’s Century Ballroom, was a Masquerade Ball with dancing and cabaret. Music was performed by the Valse Cafe Orchestra—a nine piece ensemble featuring soprano, Lucia Neare—for dancers who were dressed in gowns and costumes. All were required to wear a mask to be admitted. The cabaret performed scenes from Romeo & Juliet in between dances, seeming to appear out of the crowd until the spotlight found the actor or actress (who was wearing a wireless microphone) as the scene unfolded seamlessly. The cafe orchestra performed a variety of music including waltzes, swing tunes, Foxtrots, one steps, polkas, two steps and tangos.

The quality of the production was outstanding. Those in attendance were obviously primarily interested in dancing and seemed to enjoy the range of music, the setting and atmosphere, and the surprise cabaret very much. The performance of the production was matched in quality by the audience dancers who very talented as well.

Two aspects of the performance should be highlighted. First, the orchestra did an outstanding job of increasing access to compositions of bygone eras and cultures…Paris in the thirties. Hapsburg Vienna. Yiddish melancholy. Gypsy romance. Ragtime Manhattan, and dual genres of swing – the sophisticated urbane variety as well as a few Bob Wills barn-burners.

Second, the cabaret was brilliant in its ability to be in the crowd interacting with the audience/dancers and then suddenly increase in volume as the wireless microphone was turned up to blend into a scene from Romeo & Juliet. The transitions were seamless and the Shakespearean prose came to life each scene. Because the scene in the play was also a ball, it was simply magical the way it worked together.

The Century Ballroom was the perfect setting for the production. The stage projected the orchestra quite well, the cabaret was able to use the second floor for its balcony in the scenes, and the audience / dancers were able to dance effortless with little crowding. The venue was founded to promote social dancing and provided 2500 square feet of sprung wood floors.

The audience was primarily comprised of skilled dancers who seemed very much to enjoy the opportunity to dance to great music and enjoy the entertainment. The masks worn by all audience members facilitated switching of dance partners so that all the audience were given an opportunity to dance with a partner. The male to female (or lead to follower) ratio was monitored so that there were plenty of dance partners available for everyone.

The audience/dancers had to stand in line for a bit waiting for the ballroom to open, but event staff were there to entertain those in line and distribute chocolate and poetry during the wait. There were staff members on hand an available to answer questions and to get the audience/dancers inside smoothly once the doors were opened. Most importantly, it was really fun!

You can hear a sample of the Valse Café Orchestra on 4Culture’s Touring Arts Roster.  Their next performance is the Waltz Cafe on Oct 26 at the Century Ballroom.