Cherdonna and Lou: Lessons in Hospitality

The ineptly glamorous duo invites you to their living room.

Cherdonna and Lou catapulted to pop superstardom in the '70s, when they became one of the top touring acts in the world. The dynamic duo then went on to create a couture clothing line, popularize piano soft-rock, and co-star with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore in St. Elmo's Fire. Not ringing a bell? That's probably because Cherdonna and Lou are actually characters created by contemporary-dance duo Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason. Performing as "Cherdonna Shinatra," Kuehner is a tall blonde rocking unflattering hair extensions, a la Britney Spears. Mason, as "Lou Henry Hoover," is a short brunette with a creepy pencil 'stache. They introduced their characters last fall at the Century Ballroom in The Cherdonna and Lou Show—a bizarre combination of dancing, lip-synching, piano-synching, and gender-bending that played out like a TV variety show filmed in a forgotten bondage dungeon where time stands still. Watching them is like observing the birth of the love child of a modern dancer and a drag performer—bizarre and compelling. And the union has proved advantageous. "By working with contemporary dance and drag, we're able to pull people in on several different levels," Mason explains. "Our work is as suited for Chop Suey and Re-bar as it is On the Boards." Their recent showcase at OtB, a 20-minute piece in the NW New Works Festival, serves as the backbone of their upcoming full-length show It's a Salon!, again at Century Ballroom. Kuehner and Mason intend for Salon! to be more intimate and less performative than their previous work. "We wanted to play up the personas [of Cherdonna and Lou]," Mason says. "So rather than use the variety-show format, we're operating in real time. The idea is that we are having a party in our living room and reacting to the different conversations and awkward moments that arise." That entails more zany dancing, lip-synching, and—be ready for it—guitar-synching. If they can't play very well, that's part of the act, Mason explains. "Cherdonna and Lou are earnest. They aren't great at anything, but they try super-hard, which is funny in a pathetic sort of way. People relate to that. It makes them more lovable." And if we laugh at their ineptitude? "Contemporary dance is not known for being a comedic craft," she adds. "So it's cool to bring that element into it." Kuehner and Mason aren't the first cabaret duo to push their audience into laughter and discomfort via drag and dubious talent. Like Kiki and Herb's send-ups of lounge-singer conventions, they force you to ask "Are they really that bad? Are they supposed to be that clumsy?" And, crucially, "Can I make it to intermission?" (At my first show last fall, several audience members were dumbfounded, and my date had to be persuaded to stay put.) But like Justin Bond's Kiki, presented as a slurringly drunk, embittered old hag, Cherdonna and Lou serve an artistic purpose. They are bad dancers being portrayed by good dancers. Kuehner and Mason trained in modern dance at the University of South Florida and the University of Michigan, respectively. Their background is obvious to some viewers, unbelievable to others. Watch carefully, however, and you'll see how they skillfully insert their characters' quirky traits into the practiced choreography. "The movement is supposed to come out of the characters," Kuehner says. "We are dancers, but we are also living in [Cherdonna and Lou's] bodies." But, she concludes, if the audience is uncomfortable, "That's great, too. We hope people talk. The more conversation, the better."

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