Here & Now festival opens with a bang

Performers in Juraj Kojs’ “Bang for a Train” at the Miami Light Project Here & Now festival
Performers in Juraj Kojs’ “Bang for a Train” at the Miami Light Project Here & Now festival

Three intriguing pieces make up the first part of the Miami Light Project’s Here & Now festival, which this year has split the six artists into two programs on two separate weeks. The first, featuring original works by Carla Forte, Sandra Portal-Andreu, and Juraj Kojs, runs Thursday to Saturday at the Light Box, MLP’s space in Wynwood.

A program note for Carla Forte’s Emotional 0 calls it an emotional portrait of her past, present and future. But despite arresting imagery and staging, its meaning was opaque. Staged at a Wednesday night preview, it opens with Forte singing a mournful song in Spanish as she hangs over a piano played by Omar Roque, (unfortunately, her enunciation was mostly inaudible), while a silent black and white film shows an older and younger man and woman (Forte, her parents, and brother.) To high-pitched vocalizing from Roque, Forte dances twitchily, mirroring the film figures’ gestures of stroking or picking at their faces; she moves more spasmodically and rhythmically as Roque switches to a drum set, while dancing salsa on film. Seated, she eats cake from a frilly plate, while Roque plays clinking, slightly ominous music on the piano and the film figures open their mouths in a silent scream. The piece ends with the four figures each blowing out a single candle on a cake.

Each segment is dramatically lit by a single overhead light, and the slow, starkly shot film is striking. But Forte’s movement is too repetitive and limited to convey much. Is she struggling with family traits and memories? Would we think this without the program note, or if we didn’t know that the people on film are her family? Emotional O implies an inner drama that it doesn’t deliver.

Sandra Portal-Andreu’s For: Shame From:_______ also mixes video and live dance, but to sharper effect – portraying how social pressure and imagery push women into restricted physical and psychological norms. Shame From opens with a bizarre 1950’s film of a woman lecturing on proper female appearance and comportment, instructing that "good grooming is at the root of everything" but "don’t copy." Liza Carmona, Samantha Pazos, and Katie Weigman, in Angie Yacukz’ prim 50’s style dresses, emerge from the audience to do an orderly dance filled with cliché glamour poses, growing agitated as they recite a barrage of contradictory admonishments. Their cries of "You’re too loud/you’re weak/be a lady/be a bitch" segue into simply repeating "be, be, be." Stripping to old-fashioned white underwear, they stand meekly as Portal-Andreu marks their bodies with red, then return to more frenetic dancing as video (by Damian Rojo) shows a stream of semi-nude social media selfies, anonymous butts and breasts, mixed with images of famous women – Frida Kahlo, Oprah, etc – an overwhelming visual barrage of models to emulate. Portal-Andreu’s choreography is more illustrative than resonant, and her message verges on didactic – but the effect of Shame From is chilling.

Experimental composer Juraj Kojs’ Bang for a Train was the simplest, but in a way the most profound work of the night – and certainly the most unexpected and enjoyable. The thin, bespectacled Kojs, who is from Slovenia, enters to explain that he grew up with public transportation, but after experiencing three-hour Metrorail commutes in Miami, is trying to improve local transport with this community project. "Join us – it is fun," he said, urging the audience out of their seats to follow seven musicians on a participatory, percussive odyssey. The musicians drummed on the seats with empty plastic water bottles, in a hallway with plastic tubes, then headed out to the street, where Kojs and an assistant persuaded the crowd to join them in banging on walls and street signs. Finally, the musicians led us to a glorious cacophony in a back alley, everyone banging on dumpsters and metal fences. By the end the audience, which had gone from self-conscious to enthusiastic, was instinctively following the musicians’ lead, laughing and drumming together.

Bang for a Train was simultaneously a participatory and experiential performance, an example of instant community building, an exercise in seeing and hearing your surroundings in a new way, and, quite simply, rare fun. Afterwards Kojs said he planned to repeat it around Miami as a call for better transportation; so if you see a crowd banging beats at a Metrorail station, you’ll know why. We can only hope county leaders will join them.

If you go

What: Here & Now festival Program I, with Carla Forte’s "Emotional O," Sandra Portal-Andreu’s "For: Shame From: ____," and Juraj Kojs’ "Bang for the Train"

When: 8 p.m., Thursday to Saturday

Where: The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami

Info: $15-$25; miamilightproject.com or 305.576.4350