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Flash Review 2, 2-6: Pasta and Pretension
Dzul Dance, with a Side of Cream

By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona

To begin with, Sal Anthony's S.P.Q.R. is a strange venue. Sal Anthony has been a great supporter of dance and the movement arts; but primarily he is a restaurateur. Upstairs from his Little Italy eatery, this past Friday he temporarily transformed a catering hall into a theatrical venue for Dzul Dance's "The Mayan Cosmos." With its ample bar and dance hall feeling, this space has potential for cabaret acts and new vaudeville, but this particular evening's agenda was far from light-hearted. Dzul Dance has a serious mission: "...to help preserve Pre-Hispanic Ancient Culture...." In case the audience was confused by the smell of marinara sauce mixed with the percussive sounds of rattling ankle bands and drums, an introductory narration told us about the importance of Mayan arts. The tone of this cultural history lecture set the audience up for a diorama-style reenactment of Mayan ritual. What we saw was pure offence. A culture reduced to stereotype: carnivorous sexuality and animalistic behavior. It was as insulting as watching the 1943 film "Cabin in the Sky," where African-Americans are depicted as those happy singing dancing people who love to eat watermelon.

Multiculturalism is a hot commodity today in grant and fund-raising parlance. Javier Dzul is a native of Mexico and this, combined with his training and consequent performance credits with the Martha Graham Dance Company, creates a pristine dossier for intercultural work. But is there more to intercultural fusion than splicing a codified Graham step with a move from a Mayan ritual? Is there a criteria or a cultural/historical/political reason for intercultural work?

It is obvious that Mr. Dzul is not concerned with these types of questions. His solipsistic display of skin and limbs, exhibited through repetitive kicking and writhing, does little more than degrade his own culture. Overall the effect is appalling. Though I know little of the Mayan people, I felt embarrassed for them. Was it really possible that Dzul consciously chose to have the men spread the legs of the women and then lift them over head to display? Is that really a raw piece of flesh that is hanging from Dzul's mouth and then gnawed on voraciously by bare-cheeked men? Not only was I offended, I was revolted. The continuous sight of spread legs and undulating torsos combined with the sickeningly sweet smell of cannoli cream twisted my senses to nausea.

Getting past the dreadful choreography to the performers themselves, it is possible to see that Dzul rehearses his dancers well. They are clean and clear and committed. Perhaps getting to finally perform some of the Graham technique that they have all ardently studied in class is enough to fulfill these dancers. I don't begrudge them that. Venues for performing the Graham technique are few and far fetched. Amy Piantaggini and Jennifer Binford, who have performed with the Graham company, held the stage with particular aplomb. None of these dancers are unpleasant to watch. All the women have bodies that could be featured in Shape magazine; the men are Chelsea boys (read svelte, hairless and cut). We get to see them in the bare suggestion of costumes, and this is only disagreeable when considering to what this signifier points. Generally this is the problem. The dancing itself is not bad, nor is the structure of the choreography or the fluidity of the movement; however, this movement is conveying something. And what it conveys undermines the complexity of the Mayan culture.

A final plea: Have a conscience. An opportunity to share, link, compare, and explain difference and diversity is not often obtained. Rarely does this opportunity come with a rapt audience. Choose wisely. The window of acceptance can narrow quickly to discrimination.

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