Review: This Is a Costume Drama (The Dietrich Group)


Dance ode to playing dress-up, This is a Costume Drama plays on stage in Toronto

This Is a Costume Drama is not a costume drama. There are lots of costumes in this gruellingly fun piece of dance theatre, making its world premiere at the Harbourfront Centre, but no drama. In order for there to be drama, there has to be something to care about. Something has to matter.

Of course, no costume drama is going to call itself a costume drama. So what is this show, if not that? It’s a display. Choreographer DA Hoskins and his collaborators in The Dietrich Group offer audiences little else but a vision of their own droll posturing. They’re good at making a spectacle of themselves, and no doubt some people will enjoy watching them do that.

As the title suggests, This Is a Costume Drama functions as a catalogue. From the beginning, the performers come up to a mic at the front of the stage and label things: each other—”This is a man’s body,” “This is a man’s foot”—and the parts of the show—”This is the tender part,” “This is the hard part.”

In keeping with the spirit of declarative statements, here are some facts about the show: There is a lot of nudity. The performers all have athletic bodies. Some of the dancing is really good. The work is held together by themes and motifs rather than a subject or narrative. It’s two hours long. It’s two hours long.

Nudity in performance is like cursing in writing: the effect is strong at first, but unless used decisively, it fizzles quickly. Prolonged nakedness on stage is simply a costume, and if it doesn’t carry any other burden than that, the diminishing return can be part of its success. But in This Is a Costume Drama, nudity is continually emphasized, as if it were in itself a point worth making. For two hours.

The piece gives a lot of attention and energy to male genitals in particular. If the penis wasn’t getting its due before now, it finds plenty here. This Is a Costume Drama toys throughout with titillation, but it exchanges eroticism for sardonic poise. Apart from the one explicit scene of male masturbation, which is performed with a deep and arresting sense of presence that is otherwise absent from the show, the creators seem to think that sex is stupid.

Despite all the posturing, This Is a Costume Drama does offer at least one sequence of mesmerizing beauty. Toward the end, virtuosic breakdancer Greg Selinger performs a stunning solo, while at the same time delivering a monologue that miraculously ties together all the disjointed pieces that preceded it.

As well as the motif of classification, the work is structured as a series of numbered games. Performer Danielle Baskerville writes in the program: “The essence of This Is a Costume Drama is the exploration of playing as a means of survival, and the need all adults have to express the myriad of people contained within us.”

This Is a Costume Drama is the definition of postmodern art: it’s all surface and style. In other words, it’s deeply unsatisfying. Unless you like watching people play with themselves. There’s a lot of that.


Photo of Mark Reinhart, Brodie Stevenson, DA Hoskins by Linnea Swan