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Issue Date: November 2009


Jennifer Keirn

It might be named after everyone’s favorite nun-turned-nanny, but don’t expect Fräulein Maria — the DANCECleveland production coming to the Hanna Theatre Nov. 20 and 21 — to be a linear retelling of The Sound of Music tale.

“I’m embarrassingly nonlinear in my thinking,” says Doug Elkins, the acclaimed New York-based dancer and choreographer who created the work. “It’s a deconstruction of The Sound of Music that slips in and out of the narrative.”

Elkins’ style reflects his mastery of hip-hop, club and break dancing — “I paid my way through college break dancing,” he says — combined with classical and modern dance influences. The result is a mash-up that includes an audience sing-along, a human Alps range and plenty of laugh-out-loud humor that might make the Mother Abbess blush.

“[Elkins] is in that cool, downtown, avant-garde dance community, maybe even at the top of it,” says DANCECleveland executive director Pamela Young. “His work is smart and interesting, and he creates dance a little differently.”

When Young came across a DVD of a New York showing of Fräulein Maria last fall while she was planning DANCECleveland’s 2009-10 season, she laughed herself right off her chair.

“I scrapped my plans,” Young remembers. “The economy had fallen off a cliff, and everything seemed bleak and heavy. I thought this might bring a little laughter to Cleveland.”

Cleveland’s one of only five places outside of New York that will see Fräulein Maria this fall — coinciding unintentionally with the 50th anniversary of the premiere of The Sound of Music on Broadway — and Elkins will include a handful of locals with a dozen or so dancers accompanying him on stage.

Die-hard Sound of Music fans should come prepared for Elkins’ at-times irreverent take on the material — in “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” the part of Liesl is danced by a guy, for instance — but to quibble would be to miss out on a whole lot of fun.

“I’m sure we’ll have some audience members saying, ‘What were they thinking?’ ” Young says. “But we’ll have a good time. The dancing is fun and smart and doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

“There’s something for everyone in Fräulein Maria,” insists Elkins, whether you’re a von Trapp purist or a Sound-of-What?

“Maybe you had to sing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ in kindergarten, or you’ve only heard the Gwen Stefani remix of ‘The Lonely Goatherd,’ ” he says. “It’s whatever you bring to it.”

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