Box of Pain

Two dancers stand statue-still on a bare stage just behind a third performer, who leans toward the audience and flashes a sarcastic grin. As the dancers move their torsos and arms robotically, the narrator begins to speak in verse: "My boy/Lost his innocence to the rain/And he tried, he/What Jack/Did he die…."

The choreography is disjointed, like the poem. The dancers turn, lean, and bow toward each other mechanically, as if performing a ritual set to words. Adding to the coldness of the scene is the fact that the narrator isn't really speaking but is moving her lips to a recorded voice-over. "I remove/Reverse and run/Away… I have a/Reservation a/Restoration a/Reconstruction of my box," she mouths. Then the theater goes dark.

Thus concludes one of 16 short scenes featured in Jack's Box -- a Trip-Hop Fairy Tale. The rest of the show includes other poetry segments, dance numbers, a ballet solo, and pantomime pieces. The scenes that don't feature poetry are set to a soundtrack of popular industrial and trip-hop techno music.

Jack's Box is ostensibly an interpretation of the poem of the same title, a metaphoric look at adolescent angst in which a boy builds a box between himself and the world. Francois Alexandre, now age 18, wrote the poem while he was a student in the performing arts magnet program at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. At age 16 he dropped out and went to New York City, where, among other things, he performed at the Threadwaxing Space in Rafael Sanchez's The Libation Bearers -- The Opera, a piece featuring lip-synched Queen tunes.

Inspired in part by that show, he wrote and choreographed his production, in which characters lip-synch not only recorded verse but also the lyrics to electronica songs. Alexandre returned to Florida earlier this summer, took out a $3000 loan, and enlisted high-school friends to perform the show, which he directs and stars in.

During Jack's Box, dancers Melissa Rask and Denise Rojas join Alexandre (as Jack) in "The Trio," a fluid, high-energy, synchronized dance sequence set to the Crystal Method song "Bad Stone." And another friend, Tai Johnson, pulls off a beautiful ballet solo to "Teardrop" by Massive Attack.

The best way to enjoy the show as a whole is to judge each scene individually. Although the program provides a story line -- something about Jack and a puppet ballerina lover who draws him temporarily out of his box -- the nonlinear approach to the material diffuses the plot. It's better simply to consider Jack's Box 16 shows in one.

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John Ferri