As in previous years, the season at Off-Broadway's New Victory Theatre offers a mix of plays, dance companies and circus-acrobatic-style troupes, all part of the theatre's commitment to family-oriented shows that don't fall into the pejorative "children's theatre" trap. Among the companies scheduled for 2000-01 are a return visit by the UK's Young Vic outfit, Ping Chong's Kwaidan, and the world-famous Peking Acrobats.
The first show of the season, The Mukishi, ends its run Sept. 24. An African folktale performed by Harlem's Batoto Yetu troupe, the show incorporates Masks, tribal skirts and life-sized puppets into the story of a young boy searching for the "great spirit" who can save the village from destruction. The presentation, which began Sept. 15, is part of the bi annual Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre, also ending this weekend.
Formed in 1990 by Julio Leitao, Batoto Yetu means "our children" in Swahili. Regarding The Mukishi's themes, Lietao said in a statement that spirits "give us power to accomplish our goals."
Upcoming New Victory shows include:
• Sept. 29-Oct. 22: Last year's Grimm Tales went over well enough to warrant the return of London's Young Vic Theatre Company, this time with Arabian Nights. Dominic Cooke stages this fantasia of music and storytelling, as Shaharazad tries to keep her murderous husband, the King, occupied with the Arabian equivalent of shaggy dog stories. • Oct. 27-Nov. 5: Kwaidan, a series of three Japanese ghost stories staged by experimental director Ping Chong, premiered as part of the 1998 Henson Festival of Puppet Theatre. Now it's back, as a co-production between Ping Chong & Company and the Center for Puppetry Arts of Atlanta, GA. The first piece, "The Story of Jikininki," tells of a selfish priest, who as punishment, returns to life as a flesh-eating goblin. "The Story of Mimi Nashi-Hoichi" is the tale of a blind boy, Hoichi (played by actor David Ige), who is tormented by the spirits of Heiki warriors, embodied as crabs with human faces. The final story belongs to O-Tei, a woman who promises her fiance that she will return him after she dies. She finally does, but in the person of a fast food counter girl who can't remember who she was in her past life.
Chong, an Obie and two-time New York Dance and Performance Award winner, has created pieces for New York's La MaMa since the debut of his Obie winner, Humboldt's Current, in 1977. Among his more than 25 stage works are Nuit Blanche, Nosferatu, Brightness, Interfacing Joan and After Sorrow.
• Nov. 10-26: The Parsons Dance Company.
• Dec. 1, 2000-January 14, 2001: Circus Oz, from Melbourne, Australia, make a return visit. "Live, funky music" accompanies the acts, which include tightrope walkers, spaceman-type trapeze artists and a fiery hula hoop dancer.
• Feb. 9-25, 2001: Urban Tap offers stomp, breakdancing and freestyle hoofing.
• March 2-18, 2001: "Circus." The name says it, sort of. From Amsterdam's Theater Terra comes this tale of an 83-year-old grandpa who, with his grandson, decides to stage a circus for his fellow nursing home residents. The company's Towering played at the New Victory in 1997.
• March 23-April 1, 2001: Dance, acrobatics and juggling are part of "Party," a presentation by the Introdans company of the Netherlands.
• April 6-22, 2001: Celebrating their 48th year in show biz, it's The Peking Acrobats, bringing their gymnastic twirls and exotic music to the Off Broadway venue.
• May 4-13, 2001: In The Post Man Delivers, solo comic actor Robert Post creates such characters as a desperate basketball coach, a ballet master and his female prize pupil -- and all eight suspects in an Agatha Christie mystery.
• May 18-June 3, 2001 brings gymnastic physical comedy with "Crash Test Dummies." No, not the pop group; it's the latest show by the New York based movement troupe, Antigravity. The group, comprising Olympic athletes and world-class dancers, play crash test dummies undergoing basic training for their spectacularly dangerous career.
Tickets to New Victory shows run $10-$25, with 40 percent discounts available for members. The box office opens Sept. 5, but tickets are already available from Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200.
The New Victory serves as the 42nd Street host house for national and international productions, mostly geared towards New York City youth. The 1999-2000 season featured, among others,the Philadelphia Dance Company, Shockheaded Peter, Tomas Kubinek, Suzanne Farrell and the masters of 20th Century Ballet.
Among the practical information available on the company's website, www.newvictory.org, are show descriptions, schedules, show articles and reviews, special events listings, RealAudio and Video clips, online ticketing and a 3-D virtual tour of the New Victory Theatre.
-- By David Lefkowitz