REVIEW: Echo Theater Company’s “just play”


Summer’s here, and “just play,” Echo Theater Company’s latest production, is a great way to kick off the season that’s all about just playing.

EchoTheaterjustplay3Combining dance, music, aerial dance, trapeze, and all-around fun, this show is inspiring and breathtaking. It’s divided into two acts. The first (45 minutes) is a collection of six numbers preceded by guest performers. (At the press show, it was Trashman and the Noise Band, who will open the June 12-14 shows; Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus will be the guest for the June 19 show, and members of 9 Ladies Dancing will open the June 20 performance.)

These segments will have audience members of all ages marveling over the dancers’ physical strength. In the first number, three dancers balance on top of each other and sideways at seemingly impossible angles, and they stretch and bend in ways that truly make you ponder and admire the human form. Pull your eyes away from the dancers (and their muscles) now and then to watch their shadows on the walls. (This goes for almost all the pieces.)

There’s also an audience participation/improv piece, and it’s fun to see what the dancers come up with when given guidelines and limitations from a theme tucked inside a selected balloon, a spin on the Wheel of Possibility, and a random adverb and adjective shouted from the audience.

Speaking of audience participation, Audience Bingo gives viewers something fun to do during set changes. Everyone gets a card with things to find in the dance numbers. These include a guitar, mismatched socks, and a person yawning. Get five in a row, and you win a prize. It’s fun and it’s easy (they turn the lights up and give you time to think about what you just saw).

What I enjoyed the most were the aerial dance/trapeze numbers (though the tap dancing also had me mesmerized, staring at the dancers’ feet the whole time). ’Round and ’round they go, flying in the air beautifully and gracefully.

EchoTheaterjustplay2Act Two (30 minutes, after a 15-minute intermission) consists of several numbers all set on a playground, complete with swings and a tire swing. Kids will get a kick out of watching grown-ups act like kids, with their playground antics, pretending, playing together (or not), and navigating the social scene. And they’ll love seeing just how high a swing can go. (Kids, don’t try this at home! These are trained professionals!)

“just play” is suitable for all ages, and it’s a perfect intro to all kinds of dance, but it’s probably best for ages 7 and up. It might be harder for younger kids to sit through some of the longer, more artful numbers, but the variety of pieces and the set changes between them might allow you to pick and choose when might be a good time for a break in the lobby or a walk around the block if needed.

Echo Theater is in the bustling Hawthorne district, right across from the Bagdad. Since there isn’t a parking lot, plan on spending some time finding street parking. (Remember to be mindful of neighborhood residents and their driveways. And keep in mind that 37th Ave. is a long block.) There are plenty of shops and places for food and drink to keep you and your family occupied before and/or after the show.

“just play” runs June 12-14 and June 19-20 at Echo Theater. Click here for more info.

All photos courtesy of Echo Theater Company.

Jade was given tickets to attend press preview performance on behalf of Metro Parent-PDX Kids Calendar for review. She was in no way compensated for her opinions.

Jade Chan

Jade Chan

Jade Chan is a native Portlander who returned to her roots after short stints on the East Coast. She remembers a time when Lloyd Center was an open mall, the Pearl consisted of warehouses, OMSI was where the Children’s Museum is now, and traffic jams were rare. A freelance editor and a mom of two, she enjoys sharing her love for the arts and her (ever-changing) hometown with her family.
Jade Chan