Performing Arts

Here & Now: 2014 spotlights concept-driven performance pieces

Presented by Miami Light Project, concept-driven performance dominates Here & Now: 2014, A Knight Emerging Artist Series. The ability to transcend one’s physical body and the impossible ideal of utopia are just a couple of the big ideas that made for interesting fodder as four local artists presented works-in-progress at Thursday’s opening night performance in Wynwood.

In filmmaker and video artist Juan Carlos Zaldivar’s Shifting Nature: Hesperus is Phosphorus, the meaning of art shifts as you interact with it. Several large glass ovals, reminiscent of early 19th century daguerreotypes, hang on the walls of the Miami Light Project’s Light Box at Goldman Warehouse. As the spectator passes a wand of light back and forth across the empty glass, intricate paintings appear imbued in phosphorescent light. An elegantly rendered image of Shiva, for example, materializes in the way that film processed in old-school dark rooms once did. The effect is magical.

In Ana Mendez’s dance piece Portal, Mendez, Shira Abergel and Keisha Whitfield move in unison around a circle of light. Inspired by the internal journey of a shamanistic ritual, the dancers’ hips sway rhythmically while their torsos and faces remain immobile and expressionless. Toward the end of the piece, one dancer shines a spotlight on the other two, creating a much-needed shift in the dynamic. Portals is haunting and hypnotic, but at times the choreography grows too repetitive.

Standing in front of the backdrop of an airport terminal, a character in Abel Cornejo’s Utopia D2H utters that this is his last chance to find the place called “life’s purpose.” Travel serves as an apt metaphor for this series of far-reaching vignettes, all concerned with man’s insatiable search for utopia. One, for example, explores utopia in the form of the highjacking of planes to Cuba that occurred in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Cornejo, who also directs, crams a few too many vignettes into his 20-minute time slot, so Utopia D2H sometimes feels rushed. Actors Johann Abreu, Helen Reynolds and David Pearson deliver earnest performances; however they need to inhabit the characters more fully, so that the unique tone and emotional tenor of each vignette is felt more acutely.

Letty Bassart’s enigmatic performance piece Un-Nameable One, Two, Three is packed with so much talent that it is definitely the standout of the evening. Bassart’s piece asks how much we can know about each other and ourselves in terms of personal identity and lineage. The vocal acrobatics of top-notch Cuban songstress Gema Corredera combine with a performance by powerhouse Shaneeka Harrell to create collage of fragmented text, sound and movement — all set to an evocative musical score by Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Corredera moves around the periphery of the stage, belting out operatic trills, nonsense sounds and fragments of song, while Harrell’s prowess comes from her explosive physicality and the raw emotion of her voice. The women never interact directly, but they ignite the stage with a memorable theatrical force field.

Now in its 15th year, Here & Now remains an essential catalyst in bringing fresh ideas to the stage.