Monday, February 9, 2009

Buglisi Dance Theater, a review

Buglisi Dance Theater

The Joyce Theater

Friday, February 6, 2009

Frida, Interplay No. 9-1, Suspended Women, and the world premiere of

Wild Mannequins & Wing Walkers

Three dancers began silhouetted downstage in a triangle formation while a Frida Kahlo painting projected behind them. When lights illuminated their figures, I noticed the difference in costumes between the three women. Two wore dresses of different styles and the third woman was dressed in pants and a jacket. The beige toned dresses of a corset-like bodice and flowing long skirts were embellished with sparkling appliqués and deep-colored flowers of red and green. Near the collarbone was a webbed design similar to the thorn necklace in Kahlo’s Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. (right)

The movement of Frida was comprised of slow arabesque lines with flexed feet and abrupt contractions that are held strong in the dancers firmly disciplined bodies. The slow and steady movement is accompanied by the raspy-voiced narrator, Cynthia Adler, reciting a compilation of text “derived by Buglisi from the letters and diary of Frida.”

“Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain.”

There was an intense passion and raw emotion as Kahlo divulged her true emotions through her letters and diary. She had a turbulent marriage to muralist Diego Rivera, which survived several affairs a divorce and a remarry. Her paintings use surrealism to elicit deep visceral reactions of intense and grotesque nature. Many depict internal organs seen through the surface of the body’s skin to suggest Kahlo’s emotional state at the date of the composition.

How clever of A. Christina Giannini to connect the very nature of Kahlo’s paintings into the details of costume design! Dancer, Terese Capucilli, wore a multi-layered skirt with removable pieces. Lifting the top layer of the skirt to expose the unseen, a tan layer of the skirt was illustrated with brightly colored organs, painted by the set designer, Debora Mache.

The chants of Arvo Part’s De Profundis led Helen Hansen’s steady ascent to stand atop her stool, using it as a pedestal from whence to better enchant the audience. Slow hip undulations and enticing arm reaches draw the audience closer into this spellbinding trance. Photo Left: Buglisi Dance Theatre (c) Nan Melville

Jeanene Winston captured my attention in a more masculine role, wearing a correlating pants suit. Perhaps this figure is another aspect of Kahlo’s personality, as she was often known to dress boyishly. Winston rolls languidly across the floor with sweeping arm gestures striving to express an unspoken pain.

The piece ends with Winston standing on the chair in a flexed back attitude, below her sits Hansen straddling the body of Capucilli who has just shimmied out of the lop layer of her skirt leaving it halfway overhead with her face covered and her body on the floor. Frida is a striking triptych into the fascinating and inspiring life of Frida Kahlo.

Interplay No. 9-1 began with nine dancers onstage in black pants and all different styles of solid colored leotards. The stage is set with chairs where dancers are relaxing and sitting watching several very different duets happen. The environment felt like we were being privileged to enter an intimate open rehearsal happening onstage. A program note said “A Viennese picnic in the Tyrolean Garden at Schönbrunn Palace.”

Dancer, So Young An, was especially captivating wearing a purple leotard and her long brunette hair pulled back into a straight ponytail. Her thin elongated body emoted with a supple flexibility that was accompanied by a heartbreaking sadness expressed in her eyes. One movement repeated throughout her duet; a longing reach into the distance and then a quick rotate around her partner, Jason Jordan.

The piece ended as an endearing tableau. Two statuesque couples sat downstage uniquely entwined in their love interests with the rest of the dancers gathering downstage of the couples. All movements stop for everyone to raise one hand towards heaven slowly, and then lower it gently like a falling star, silently in the night.

Suspended Women was an absolutely gorgeous piece with thirteen women all wearing luxurious gown type dresses of various colors and textures.

Suspended Women spoke to the duality of a woman’s identity; tender femininity paired with a vivacious strength. The colorful pastel dresses were in silk, chiffon, feathers and sequins. Some flowed freely while others wobbled with a hoopskirt to the sounds of Maurice Ravel’s Gloria. The eclectic dresses added a romantic timelessness to the piece. (Right Photo: Bill Biggart)

Buglisi has a talent for creating memorable conclusions to her well-crafted works. All thirteen women focused forward while treading their feet onstage, creating the effect of an invisible treadmill. Each Woman at this moment demonstrated the essence of royalty. Three men nonchalantly entered extending their coat in front of them as if to hang. Junichi Fukuda extended his coat to Helen Hansen but immediately pulled the coat away and the men exited, left the women onstage to tread lightly, suspended.

There was a quiet anticipation in the audience moments before the World Premiere of Wild Mannequins & Wing Walkers. The audience ooo’d in delight as the curtain raised to reveal nine gray mannequins suspended in a row hanging above center stage; the designs of Ralph Pucci of Ralph Pucci International. Each figure’s feet were in a loose fifth but held differently positioned arms.

Onstage were several full and half mannequins legs and faces and the cloudy cover of a rolling fog.The men wore white spandex pants while women wore white unitards with tulle and feather embellishments on the back to look like wings and also tied onto one calf. Several women read aloud from history books about times of the past when women’s bodies were acceptably larger and even desirable because of the implication of status. They also spoke about notorious women such as Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. Two women floated around the stage holding mannequin faces, staring into them up close. They wore oversized headpieces comprised of three-foot-long sticks. Dancers moved jarringly and rigidly like joint-limited dolls.

Wild Mannequins & Wing Walkers carried a message about vanity and the cost of an obsessive self-image. The piece ended when the two women manipulated couples like misguided dolls. They repositioned arms and faces to control the interactions until they had redirected everyone. Proudly they admired their handy work and nodded approvingly as the curtain lowered. (Below Photo: Kristin Lodoen Linder)

I was very pleased with Buglisi Dance Theater’s program and immediately admired the choreography and the dancers. Suspended Women was my favorite piece to watch but Frida left a lingering curiosity for me about the fascinating painter. I look forward to seeing more work of this talented company.

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