Three thin, graceful dancers come out in tutus and black tights. They dance and twirl around, and are soon joined by another three dancers, all equally thin and graceful. And then another three, two of whom are thin, and graceful. The last dancer -- a guy -- looks more like a linebacker. He dances like one, too.
He earns a few laughs every time he tries to pirouette or strike an arabesque like his fellow dancers. But the real laughs come when the water bottles appear. And everyone onstage begins chugging and then spraying out water, at perfectly timed moments in the dance.
Chicago Women's Funny FestivalWhen: Wednesday through Sunday, June 6-10; Matter Dance Company will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 7
Where: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, (773) 327-5252 or www.stage773.com
Welcome to Carisa Barreca's "Water Ballet," a comic ballet the Arlington Heights native choreographed for Matter Dance Company, the troupe she co-founded with Gail Gogliotti. "Water Ballet" will be Matter Dance Company's entry in the Chicago Women's Funny Festival running Wednesday through Sunday, June 6-10, at Stage 773 in Chicago. The festival features a total of 66 performances and 400 performers.
Mind you, Barreca is no stranger to comedy. In fact, she has her toe shoes firmly planted in both the comedy and dance worlds. She is an experienced dancer, who minored in dance at Marquette University. And she is a trained comic improviser, with credentials from Second City and a resume filled with comedy shows associated with Chicago's venerable comedy theater. She was last seen in her hometown last summer in the comedy "Sex and the Second City" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.
How did Barreca become a double threat? "I started doing dance when I was 3," Barreca says. "My aunt was a dance teacher. It was mandatory."
After a while, Barreca -- always a bit of a class clown -- found dance "too structured." So she dropped dance in favor of other pursuits, including cheerleading at St. Viator High School and theater.
It was theater, though, that brought her back to dance.
Being able to dance gave her an edge in high school musicals. By the time she went to college, her interest in dance and theater was equally strong.
Then Barreca found comedy -- through Shakespeare, oddly enough. "I was doing Mistress Quickly in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' when I realized how much I loved getting laughs," Barreca says. "I got to black out my teeth and frizz out my hair. It was wonderful."
After college, she studied at Second City's conservatory and then joined one of Second City's touring companies. These days she divides her time between theater and comedy, performing part of the time with Second City and a sketch comedy troupe called the Cupid Players (also part of the comedy festival), and the rest of her time with Matter Dance Company.
She both dances and choreographs for Matter Dance. Not all of the dances she choreographs are meant to be funny. She created a wistful two-person dance that tells the bittersweet story of a doll maker who falls in love with his creation. But most of the material she creates is comic.
"We did one dance called 'Pie Non,' that involved throwing cream pies," Barreca says. "In total we throw 32 pies."
"My personal hero is Gene Kelly," Barreca says. "Gene Kelly is amazing. He could do a solo dance and tell a whole story. It was also acceptable for him to be funny, too. Dance didn't feel then like it had to be this prestigious, serious art. We lost the comedy somewhere along the way. It is my goal to see dance get laughs again."
One water bottle at a time.