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Paint-flinging dance troupe DRIP finally opens doors on International Drive

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While I'd love for local artists to conquer the tourist corridor, DRIP attempts too many different things to succeed at any of them.

My snarky style aside, I'd always rather write praises than pans. But (as anyone who read Pete Wells' evisceration of Guy Fieri's new restaurant knows) sometimes you can't help it. After recently enduring Broadway's criminally boring Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, I consoled myself that I'd never encounter such half-baked hubris in Orlando.

Then I experienced DRIP.

My journey to International Drive's newest arts entertainment venue began with the 2007 Orlando Fringe Festival show DRIP: Paint in Motion. I was intrigued by the potential of choreographer Jessica Mariko's materials-based method – dancers interacting with paint, water or dirt – as an update of avant-garde innovators like Pina Bausch. Later that summer, DRIP offered to present a pre-show dance before Bent, a Holocaust drama I co-produced. After that, I stage-managed the fledgling company at several Red Chair Affair galas, and followed their moves to the Center for Contemporary Dance and Blank Space.

When DRIP secured a location on I-Drive, I hoped they'd finally have the time and space to develop a cohesive show, and secured a free ticket to one of their premiere performances through last February's United Arts ArtsFest. Unfortunately, ArtsFest came and went without DRIP opening their doors. I missed their long-delayed November grand opening, but finally redeemed those passes last Thursday night.

DRIP's website likens its new home, tucked behind a Denny's, to a "back-alley speakeasy"; I'd say "strip-mall loading dock." Once you park (no easy feat, unless you pay a nearby hotel or pre-game at adjacent Señor Frog's), look for the DRIP placard leaning on the back landing; that and some Scotch-taped signs warning "personal belongings may get wet" are your only breadcrumbs to the entrance. Inside the lobby, as you sign something indemnifying DRIP against your injury or death, don't bother asking for OSHA safety data on the substances being slung around – you'll receive laughter and vague assurances that everything is "nontoxic."

The performance space itself is a seatless, sand-crusted black warehouse with a stage for live rock musicians at one end and an extra-wide bar at the other – all the better to dance on. As the show starts, a quintet of lithe 20-somethings arrives to do just that, gyrating suggestively as they bathe each other (and unwary audience members) with pitchers of colored liquid. Soon they're swimming in sand, flinging soil at each other, rubbing clay on their skin. Dirt turns to mud as water buckets are flung across the room, and climbing ropes fall from the ceiling for the cast to swing from. As filth and fluids fly through the air, the show climaxes in an orgy of strobe lights and splashing, and the dancers look like they're having more fun than toddlers on a Slip'N Slide.

The above may make the show sound appealing. Indeed, it includes instances of aesthetic ingenuity: One startlingly stark bit stars Jessie Sander, cowering in a spotlight and dodging a barrage of milky water balloons. And the cast can't be faulted for their energy or abandon, particularly Sander and athletic Marcus Alexander Cartier, the lone male dancer. But while I'd love for local artists to conquer the tourist corridor, DRIP attempts too many different things to succeed at any.

As dance, it's hobbled by underdeveloped, repetitive patterns, out-of-sync unison sequences and frighteningly wobbly partnering (understandable on unstable ground).

As drama, the minimal pantomimed plot – horny kids get drunk, hook up, break up; rinse and repeat – is too slender to support the emotions DRIP's imagery tries to evoke.

As performance art, plodding transitions to shift the grungy set pieces inhibit any momentum, and everything abruptly ends just when it begins to build.

As interactive entertainment, the standing audience gets splashed and stained, but isn't offered an opportunity to actively participate – except my companion, who was inadvertently smacked in the face.

As music, David Traver's monotonously anti-melodic instrumental score is the heavy-metal equivalent of NPR's soporific Echoes, amplified beyond 11.

As erotica, I find muddy humping about as arousing as coprophilia.

As a bar, stingy wine pours don't endear, and I didn't dare drink the fluorescent "beer."

And as a value proposition, the entertainment began 20 minutes late, lasted barely 40, and (at $35 without discounts) costs as much or more per minute as Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group.

DRIP might succeed if reinvented as a themed nightclub with a nominal cover charge and atmospheric entertainment. But its current presentation left me cold and damp.


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