Arts Theatre

The musical, Dogfight, exposes military tradition

There really is a musical about everything.

Dogfight, an under-the-radar off-Broadway entry from musical theatre up-and-comers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is based on the cruel and perplexing phenomena known as “dogfights,” in which soldiers compete to see who can find the ugliest date. This was a common practice amongst military personnel during the Vietnam era—the play’s setting—but has continued in some form to the present.

“It’s not the ugliest date anymore; now they’re on to who can find the fattest date,” says choreographer Jillian Willems. “But the dogfight itself is such a small part of the show—it’s really just the set up for an exploration of human relationships, and trying to understand why people are the way they are, whether it was their upbringing or military training and tradition.”

Willems did the choreography for Three Form Theatre’s production of Dogfight, and is also performing in the lead role of Rose, an awkward girl who gets picked by one of the soldiers. The fraught romance that evolves between them certainly isn’t fairy-tale material, but should offer an unconventional look into a side of military culture that hasn’t seen a lot of exposure.

Dogfight is an adaptation of the eponymous 1991 film starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor—though Willems hasn’t actually watched the film yet, wanting to approach the choreography from a fresh perspective. Instead, she’s been reviewing videos from the 1960s and studying the way we moved a few decades ago.

“It’s not really a dancey show,” she says. “My roommate calls it traffic control; it’s bodies moving everywhere. A lot of my moves are inspired by the time period of the ’60s—there are some nods to Elvis in the physicality of people. I think our bodies naturally slouch more now because we’re always looking down at our computers and our phones—looking up is huge.”

Dogfight is a fitting play for this production’s cast, notes Willems. “I’m excited for Edmonton to be introduced to and familiarize themselves more with Pasek and Paul’s work because they are the next big thing in musical theatre,” she says. “And honestly, in terms of the cast, this is everyone you’re gonna wanna see in the Edmonton musical theatre community coming together and doing a show; this is the next generation of musical theatre in Edmonton.”

Sat, Jul 12 – Sat, Jul 19 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Curtis Labelle
C103, $20


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