"In Defense of Gravity" at Attack Theatre | Program Notes

"In Defense of Gravity" at Attack Theatre

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Attack Theatre’s latest show was inspired by the writings of Jimmy Cvetic. But this wasn’t exactly the Cvetic those familiar with his work might think of.

Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity" - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN ALTDORFER
  • Photo courtesy of John Altdorfer
  • Attack Theatre's "In Defense of Gravity"
Cvetic is one of a kind: a Vietnam veteran, retired undercover narcotics cop, boxing coach and poet, and his poetry reflects his resume. It’s full of cops, crooks, drug dealers and prostitutes and nutjobs. From the plainspoken Bukowski school, it’s highly narrative, gritty (to say the least), sometimes graphic and often profane, if always also humane and leavened by a good deal of humor.

In Defense of Gravity, whose premiere run had four showings this past weekend at the George R. White Studio, in the Strip District, lacked many of those qualities. Instead, it took a handful of lines from Cvetic’s poetry and used them to construct its own story about loss and hope.

Attack co-founder and co-artistic director Peter Kope embodied the central figure, while the company’s six other dancers served, either collectively or individually, as foils for or representations of his state of mind. Throughout, the performers moved mostly to the sounds of a stellar live band playing mostly original compositions; the group included percussionist Jeff Berman; keyboardist Ben Brosche; Ben Opie on clarinet and saxophone; and vocalist Anqwenique.

The work's opening passage depicted the protagonist’s loneliness and and sorrow — a function, we’re shown, of the loss of a young child. A second, playful section found the ensemble engaging in Attack’s familiar, and occasionally gravity-defying, athletic derring-do. The concluding sequence of the hour-long work depicted healing and resolve.

The lost child was represented by a pink baby blanket and a series of toys extracted from a wooden chest; a scene when the performers array these items at center stage traveled to the edge of sentimentality and perhaps past it. (A certain sentimentality, it should be said, is not unknown in Cvetic’s writing, no matter how earthy it typically is.) But the overall shape of the work and the skill of the performers ultimately carried the evening.

The concept and vibrant choreography are credited to Kope and fellow co-founder and artistic director Michele de la Reza (who also performed), while the remaining five performers were credited with “movement invention.” Kaitlin Dann, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams and Sarah Zielinski contributed solid solos, while company newcomer Simon Phillips made a noteworthy debut, moving with power and grace and radiating charisma.

In Defense of Gravity (the title, in acronym, references Cvetic’s cop nickname, “Dog”) distills a few aspects of Cvetic’s work. There’s his mordant humor — “It’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop, followed by the bounce,” goes one line quoted in the show’s recorded voiceovers (spoken by Cvetic himself and actor Patrick Jordan). But mostly there’s hope, and the determination to go on in the face of heartbreak. As the concluding lines say, “As for the broken pieces you have gathered, keep them, they belong to you.”

At Saturday night’s show, Cvetic himself briefly addressed the audience post-performance. He was clad in his usual backward ballcap, novelty T-shirt and Converse. He probably wasn’t most people’s picture of a poet, but as In Defense of Gravity demonstrated, success doesn’t have to be about meeting audience expectations.

Here’s Steve Sucato’s preview of the show for CP.

And there’s more on Cvetic and his writings here, here and here. You can also find dozens of his poems elsewhere on City Paper’s web site.

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