The austere dance solo, puppet-propelled opera, silent-film-informed melodrama and cartoonishly gothic take on cancer that opened Miami Light Project’s annual Here & Now festival make it seem even more eclectic than usual.
Commissioned from local dance, theater and multi-media artists, the pieces presented Thursday night were strong on concept and creative production, but not as robust in content. Performances continue this weekend and repeat Feb. 14-16 at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood.
Liony Garcia’s In Lieu of Flowers is an enigmatic dance solo based on ideas about symbols and the ephemeral nature of life — dense concepts that are not readily apparent in this simple piece. Wearing dark red, Garcia moves through a precise sequence of patterns that he repeats in different directions, first close to the ground, then upright, his arms semaphoring or angling, his body snaking or twisting. Garcia, a powerful performer in Rosie Herrera’s pieces, dances with a compelling combination of clarity and lushness, yet Flowers remains a mysterious ritual.
Composer and musician Matthew Evan Taylor’s Elvrutu’s Fall draws from African, Greek and Norse mythology, using music, dance and marionettes (by artist Pablo Cano) to portray a princess forced into a fatal match. Priscilla Marrero choreographed and directed the dancers. Sensual Rachel Carroll is Elvrutu, and Jocelyn Perez, manipulating a golden bull, seems to be a father or god figure called Furaha. Amy C. San Pedro dominates with a rakish man puppet called Anoki, uniting with and then overcoming Carroll.
Taylor’s sparse, jazz-inflected music for flute, saxophone, stand-up bass and piano evokes melancholy and tension. His program note says Elvrutu’s Fall is meant to be a myth, but since it’s based on unfamiliar archetypes and stories, the action has little meaning or resonance, requiring more elaboration to connect.
Shira Abergel’s Appalachian Squall puts an even more richly layered production around a clever but ultimately simplistic idea. Abergel and Jameson Hammond act out the story of a poor, Prohibition-era Appalachian couple struggling with his alcoholism, while a film (directed and edited by Abergel) combines vintage clips and photos (of coal miners, mountain shacks, saloon brawls) with silent film-era subtitles to narrate the action and provide dialogue.
The fine traditional music trio Avocado Estate plays engaging Appalachian folk and folk-style original music, and the set, with wooden moonshine stills and antique glass jars, is beautifully detailed. But the concept and the way Squall pokes fun at silent film melodrama and Appalachian-hick clichés wear thin quickly. Moreover, they combine awkwardly with the piece’s apparently sincere theme of the dangers of alcoholism. Style doesn’t make up for a simplistic story.
Ivonne Batanero’s dance piece Project: Invasion was in many ways the most engaging of the evening, tackling the fraught subject of cancer with an unnerving and compelling combination of black humor and striking imagery that’s reminiscent of her piece on nightmares at last year’s festival.
Wearing garish, mask-like makeup and crouching inside baggy T-shirts the sickly green color of hospital smocks, dancers Liza Carmona, Juliana Trivino, Brigette Cormier, Kerine Jean-Pierre and Sasha Caicedo bounce like madly animated cancer cells, then disappear through slits in a backdrop of white sheets, as if slinking back into the body.
Cormier does a solo in which one hand seems like a separate wiggling, attacking organism that makes her writhe and shake. The soundtrack includes a thudding heartbeat and a growling, nihilistic Tom Waits song. A pure dance sequence isn’t as strong as the images in the rest of Invasion, but the piece further marks Batanero’s style.