Walking up the steep set of stairs to get to one of the wonderfully informal gems tucked away off LA’s Theatre Row known as the Complex Theatres, I was reminded of my days as a dancer in New York, ascending to some ragtag rehearsal space on or near Forty-Second Street (pre-Disney whitewash). The elevator was always broken, the stairs required more muscle power than the dancing itself, and God forbid you touched the railing for all the decades of germs that lurked. But once you got inside the studio, it was like entering a technicolor world where the sheer joy of dance managed to drown out the sirens, the horns and the urine smell down below (not to mention money and boyfriend woes).
That was a long-winded way of saying that upon entering Stella Valente’s world, I was transported in much the same way. Valente, an actress, comedienne and dancer, tells of her lifelong game of hide-and-seek with herself in her one-woman show, SHUT UP AND DANCE. From the mob-fringed world of Queens, to spicy Miami, to Buenos Aires where she learned to tango and ultimately to L.A., Stella makes anyone whose trajectory has been a series of impulsive exits off the Interstate of life feel in very good company.
Especially if you also happen to be someone for whom those exits came in the form of a grand jete. Stella loves to dance, and she does it beautifully. She also masterfully combines the high-art of beautiful movement with a down-and-dirty expose on her life and loves. Her characters are hilarious: I never wanted her mother to leave (full disclosure: I’m working on a one-woman show myself, with a character much like her mother. Now I’m wondering if it can be a two-woman show with Stella playing that part?). But the character that comes through the strongest is Stella herself and her love of dance. Because no matter what happens, dance is always a part of her life. It’s a metaphor for the different challenges she faces, a mirror gently reminding her of the aspects of her personality that could use just a tad bit of tweaking.
It made me miss those New York days, condemned buildings and all.
SHUT UP AND DANCE plays 6/17 and 6/24 at The Complex Theatre in Hollywood.