Contrary to its title, choreographer Carlota Pradera’s Bare Bones is a fleshy, skin-smacking thing.
In last Friday’s opening of this sensually dense and theatrically bleak dance/performance work, the latest commission in the Miami Theater Center’s SandBox Series, Pradera and guest artist Lazaro Godoy grapple and embrace each other unflinchingly. Their intensity is unnerving in its aggression, and the sheer amount of body contact is unmediated by modes of physical intimacy we’re used to seeing, like romance or seduction. They seem to be literally trying to get under each other’s skin. Maybe the name Bare Bones does fit for the show, which runs Fridays and Saturdays through June 28.
Aquarius Juice, a previous collaborative dance piece by Pradera for Miami Light Project’s 2012 Here and Now series, was impenetrably and self-indulgently amorphous. In Bare Bones she works with more partners, but the result — while still dense — is far more effective. The credit for this would seem to belong to artistic director Juan Carlos Zaldivar, a visual and media artist who also created the striking primitive-sculptural set, and Godoy, a mesmerizing mover whose torso alone is more expressive than most dancers’ entire bodies. Composer/sound artists Juraj Kojs and Rainer Davies (also on guitar) provide an ominous aural atmosphere, and Alexey Taran the bleakly dramatic lighting.
The notes for Bare Bones say it aims to examine power dynamics and alienation between people. It opens with Pradera, in tight flesh-toned briefs and top, writhing in metallic silver material in the SandBox theater’s storefront window — as if trapped in a high-tech cocoon. Inside, a bare-chested Godoy squats on a pile of gnarled stumps, branches and chunks of wood, head encased in a rough, funnel-like covering; with the sound of roaring waves and wind, he seems to be a kind of Cyclops, trapped on an island.
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Over the course of the piece, Godoy and Pradera circle each other, connect and separate again. The wood pieces become precarious bridges and tiny atolls. They’re tortured in isolation — but just as much so when they unite. At one point Pradera, both hands on her neck, seems to try to strangle herself. Godoy writhes and contorts wildly, veering thrillingly between directed and uncontrolled impulse. They seem whiplashed by forces inside them, which they vainly try to uproot.
The physical extremes become even more harrowing as they come together: slamming each other against the back wall; staggering with faces pressed together as they try to lick each other, like incestuous Siamese twins; slithering into staggering lifts. The violence strips the sensuality from the often sexually freighted movement. They seem to desperately want to be intimate but are too frightened, or don’t know how. When Godoy, balanced precariously on a stump, pleads “will somebody help me?” Pradera doesn’t respond. When they finally split for good, each alone on a territorial pile, it’s dismal, but also a relief.