“It’s a little bit like a rap battle,” Jenny McAllister coaches Erin Stuart and Blane Ashby as they prepare to act out a “poetry match” between 20th-century writers Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey.
Stuart and Ashby are two of 10 performers in 13th Floor Dance Theater’s satirical “Bloomsbury/It’s Not Real,” premiering this weekend in The City.
Directed and choreographed by McAllister with text by Kim Green, the show centers on the turn-of-the-century group of British writers, artists and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.
The piece runs like a reality-TV show, with contestants competing in tasks while brewing melodrama and malice on the side. Overseen by arts patron Lady Ottoline Morrell, members of the Bloomsbury Group are invited to her parlor to ostensibly talk about art, but soon become pitted against each other.
Says McAllister: “I started reading about Morrell and how she would invite people over and then eliminate them from the guest list because they weren’t interesting enough, or she would take people off to a little room to pull secrets out of them. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, she’s a reality show host.’ ”
The audience learns that most of the characters have contentious histories with each other, in the form of affairs and jealousies.
“I’ve long been fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group: their art, their writings, and how they were all sleeping with each other and open about their way of life way back in the 1920s,” McAllister says.
The action is amped up through games such as “Art or Dart,” in which contestants must show their art in a few seconds or be shot in the neck with a dart by Morrell (Jennifer Wright).
“It’s about the disposability of artists right now. There’s a mentality that if you can’t do your solo in 30 seconds, then who’s next. On the other hand, sometimes artists act disposable,” McAllister says, commenting on the characters’ silliness and capriciousness.
Yet from flings, whims and grudges came some of the most influential artists and writers of the 20th century.
As Morrell’s character says in the show, “We’re creating a new artistic reality.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by 13th Floor Dance Theater
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.
Tickets: $18 to $23
Contact: (415) 863-9834, www.odcdance.org