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Flash Review 2,1-12: Flak Attack
The Shame of Desire

By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2000 Diane Vivona

It is a sure sign that a work needs an editor when two, three or even four endings are presented. This sign flashes neon when the 'real' ending leaves the audience confounded and hesitantly clapping. That sound can only be a mixture of relief that the work is over, combined with the question of whether, indeed, it is. Compagnie Flak presented such a work at the Joyce last night. Episodic in nature, the evening-length "Perfume de Gardenias" combines the collaborative efforts of choreographer Jose Navas with four composers: Bob Ostertag, Laurent Masle, Pierre Berthet, and Joao de Bruco. Each artist reflected on and personally interpreted the word 'desire,' translating their thoughts into sound and image. Navas's choreography is fierce and complex; the imaginative sound scores drive and push. It is no accident that all of these artists are male and that the result is an uncommon wash of aggression. In fact, the clarity of this masculine perspective may be the work's only cohesive link.

The work begins with 'Prefacio.' The stage is starkly lit by footlights, a red chair empty and beckoning to performer Manuel Perez Torres, who cowers and crouches his tall body, hiding his face in his hands. Torres is fully clothed -- in shirt, pants, and shoes -- which seems important as he spends much of the next hour naked. He reaches the chair and slumps into it staring accusingly at the audience. Four dancers are behind Torres, flicking arms and legs in razor-sharp slashes of neoclassicism. There is the sound of clapping and, as the dancers continually knife the air with their limbs, Torres writhes and twists in awkward distortion. His figure seems caught in a fun-house mirror while the dancers run happily off to the carousel.

The four dancers are a structural set up, a la a Euripidean chorus They physically manifest the intangible fields of energy and interior landscapes which escape from each incomplete narrative. In one instance they repeatedly reveal their naked torsos, grabbing their shirts and holding them defiantly over their heads. Though this seems like it would be a moment of vulnerability, their physicality is so solid and unswerving that the effect is of closure rather than of opening. The body, naked, can be more steel than fluff. In another moment the chorus of dancers becomes rocks tumbled in the tide. An eddying pool swirls in undulant force and spits out Maria Ines Villasmil, who dances a lonely fish dance with a look of surprise and wonder. At other times the chorus of dancers seem to be on stage as filler -- a lot of steps, some driving music and another round of virtuosity. This is best in small doses and excellent as a conceit when focused purposively.

The unclothed body is presented in many ways throughout the work. Our first encounter, appropriately enough, is with Adam and Eve, played by Torres and Villasmil. They walk onstage presenting their nudity matter of factly and long enough to acknowledge a communion of 'we're all like this.' What is strange is not the nudity, but the clothing afterwards. Suddenly covered, the body looks completely different, more shaped up and, well, presentable. Our shame, and certainly Adam's and Eve's, is covertly revealed. At this point the theme of desire is replaced by the theme of shame. A gravelly voice shouts insults and teases with harsh lullabies; the dancers pull down their pants and lift their shirts and the image is that of standing in one's own excrement; a naked body is revealed in a Christ-like pose bathed in red against a brick wall; men solicit their sexual needs via a chat line in hope of a 'round-the-corner-quickie'; a man crawls, pathetically standing up plastic sunflowers en route to a collapse, then emits a King Kong-like wailing. It is all too much and overly disheartening. The body is never presented as beautiful, though the bodies presented are. It is ironic that Navas presents such technically accomplished, virtuostic bodies as vehicles of shame; his choice appears unconscious.

In many ways, this piece just doesn't know when to stop. A tableau pushes and bangs its own significance and a universal theme is reduced to banal specificity. This is unfortunate, as Navas clearly has the intelligence and imagination to create work of high technical caliber and contextual depth. His ideas are also interesting enough to engage the collaboration of fine artists including the above-mentioned composers, lighting designer Marco Parent and costume designer Liz Vandal. Accolades to the cast, which was completed by the finely etched performances of Tony Chong, Catherine Jodoin, and Amelie Paquette.

Compagnie Flak performs again Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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