Monday, November 15, 2010

Dance: Voices and Dance within the Americas, at the Guggenheim's Works and Process

This night, the Guggenheim presented three short pieces by three different choreographers: one American (though his biography describes Jonah Bokaer as "an international choreographer") and two Cubans, Judith Sanchez Ruiz and Maray Gutierrez.

Gutierrez could not make it to speak on the panel, and Eduardo Vilaro, Ballet Hispanico's new Artistic Director, took her place, though he didn't have much of interest to say. The real star of the night was Ruiz, who danced in her piece before joining the panel. With energy as buoyant and vibrant as her barely-controlled curly mop top, Ruiz described, in a charming foreigner's English, her interest in the Cuban American feminist performance artist Ana Mendieta. I know Mendieta's work, though I had never thought much of it, and was fascinated by Ruiz's ability to do what I thought Mendieta, like many politically-inclined artists of the '60s and '70s, was never able to do: make work successful on interconnected aesthetic, physical, and emotional levels, in addition to and in support of the intellectual-political intention.

Ruiz collaborates with Korean-born, New York-based artist Sun Kwak for this piece, which starts with Kwak's "signature expression." Kwak, shoeless, small, and dressed in black, armed with a massive roll of wide, black tape, attaches the free end to the center of the stage front, and pulls the tape across the stage, choosing a line, bending one leg to reach down and smooth and flatten the line she has created, tearing the tape when the line is complete, and beginning again. Her work is rhythmic and repetitive, with minor variations and subtle flourishes. After she works for some time, two dancers (one of them Ruiz), step out, and begin to dramatize Kwak's patterns, playing with the artist's gestures, mimicry, variation, improvisation. This builds until Kwak completes her "drawing," and leaves the stage; another dancer eventually enters.

Ruiz's piece is distinctly feminine, even if her intention is feministshe described during the panel discussion her interest in Medieta's meditations on "women's work," which is rather refreshing after the somewhat indulgent images of liminal masculinity presented by Bokaer in his Filter, also inspired by the work of an artist: Cuban-American photographer Anthony Goicolea, who takes a place on stage as a dancer. Goicolea's multiple-self portraits are beautiful and haunting, some of the most impressive staged photography I've seen, but I thought Bokaer's piece failed to capture the full promise/threat of the artist's photographs. The stage was dotted with gold-leafed, bare-branched miniature trees (Goicolea's creations) and offered a see-sawing platform at its center, allowing the look-alike dancers to play gently with weight and gravity as the "floor" moved. But the dance, perhaps too faithful to the photographs, relies too heavily on tableau, and felt stilted rather than silent, oppressed rather than suppressed. The rich underchurnings of Goicolea's photographs, strange to say in this movement-art, are missing. It's Ruiz instead who conveys the pre-eruption of bottled emotion with her trembling bodies.

The final piece of the evening, Puntos Suspensivos, further carried this perhaps unintended theme of suppressed and exploding emotions, but only one of the six dancers honestly embodied the piece's intention. Toward the end, the dancers slowly stepped forward, stretched across the stage in a horizontal line. Cued by the music, one at a time and apparently at random, a body would recoil as if shot and fall to the ground, then get up and walk forward again. The soloist's body moved in clear response to this invisible trauma, but every other dancer anticipated her moment, acting instead of reacting, dropping instead of falling.

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