Imagine a play where the actors and actresses speak no words, or a musical where the cast sings no songs. It might be hard to fathom, but Out on a Limb Dance Company and School delivers just that. Indeed, for the past 14 years, including their new production of Annie, Out on a Limb’s casts have used dance alone to tell their stories.
It’s not the conventional storytelling method (the Children’s Theatre Company recently staged a version of Annie that was more conventionally theatrical, and this winter marked a recent film adaptation), but a risk that is rewarded. With the absence of dialogue, one might fear losing interest, but OOAL’s performance of Annie completely captures the audience’s attention on the performers’ body language, facial expressions, rhythm of dance, and pace of the music to fully convey the action. That action includes such classic scenes as “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” when the girls are forced to clean their orphanage; Annie telling Sandy, a dog she finds on the street after running away, about better days to come to the hopeful “Tomorrow”; and Annie happily dancing to “I think I’m Gonna Like It Here” after she meets Daddy Warbucks.
But there are also new scenes so smoothly incorporated into the storyline that they feel inseparable from the original. After Annie arrives at the Warbucks mansion, she tornadoes through a day full of fun activities—learning ballet, Bollywood dance, martial arts, and tap dances her way through a tennis lesson. Like the original, the evening ends with Daddy Warbucks and his secretary taking Annie to Radio City Musical Hall for a Christmas show, where we see the cast perform the Rockette’s famous eye-high leg kicks in perfect unison.
While the second half of the show adheres closely to the original, with Miss Hannigan’s evil plan to get rid of Annie and the orphans escaping to save her, the show ends with a circus extravaganza featuring Annie and her friends, showcasing a series of unexpected talents from gymnastics to contortionism.
Even more captivating than the story are the dancers themselves. With ages ranging from 4 to 40, the youngsters captured the audience’s hearts with cuteness, the school-aged children wowed the crowd with stunning aerials (a no-handed cartwheel), and the adults with their finesse and precise technique.
For more information about Out on a Limb and the brilliant woman behind the choreography, see Kate’s Q&A with Kim Martinez.