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Flash Dispatch, 8-16: La Mama-Mia
The Village is Bazzano Superiore

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

BAZZANO SUPERIORE, Umbria, Italy -- About 10 years ago, international empressaria and La Mama founder Ellen Stewart used her MacArthur Genius grant to purchase an old convent in the Italian province of Umbria and began work on an incredible magnum opus. This year I/in mixed company with Perry Yung, my dancers and a few last minute additions were able to fully benefit from a decade of hard labor when we spent ten days in residence to create and perform "The Legend of the Pearl," as part of the La Mama Umbria International Festival D'Estate 2001 on the Santa Maria Reggiano Mountain in Bazzano Superiore, just outside of Spoleto. Or as I like to call it: Heaven on Earth.

Having been here two years ago as part of one of La Mama's Great Jones Repertory Co. tours of Electra, Medea and Trojan Women, and having heard Brian Nishii and Perry's tales of years before, I could fully appreciate how the center has developed. Prior to the Festival D'Estate, La Mama Umbria hosted its annual symposium of classes from renowned experimental theater artists from around the globe. While we were here one could find Iranian puppeteers, members of Mama's newest production "Seven Against Thebes," a few ex-pats, a Slovenian dance company and William Shakespeare the dog co-mingling at any given point. The center can house about 50 people and contains an art gallery, a small theater-dining hall and a large open field. It is a magical crossroads for artists from around the world. Someone is always ready to burst into song at dinner, dance on a table or jam in the music room or gallery at any moment.

Aside from the greatest gift of waking through the Italian countryside, downing a quick shot of espresso, wandering up the hill for a morning's rehearsal in the field and being treated to the culinary delights of the phenomenal Elisa Fagioli, who often cooks in a flaming outdoor oven with the help of her 14-year-old daughter, we were also doubly blessed to be able to see the work of other artists.

Betontanc (Concrete Dance) from Llubljana, Slovenia presented "Midnight Meat Flight," one of the hottest pieces of theater I've seen in a while. This troupe lives up to its rather evocative name. They dance hard and loud. Director Matjaz Pograjc has created an examination of Ljubljana as a latter-day Casablanca, a holding tank for refugees fleeing across the Croatian border through Slovenia towards Italy, hoping from there to embark towards "The Promised Land." The self-contained and well-utilized set, by Sandi Mikluz, is a dance hall-bar-strip club complete with center stage pole.

Primoz Bezjak, lost and stumbling, enters the bar, where he is quickly caught up in this dehumanizing world. What follows are a series of raw, rough and tumble dance sequences in which the two women, Alma Blagdanic and Katarina Stegnar, get tossed around alot by Bezjak and the delicously silken Branko Potocan. Yeah, my righteous babe self felt like I was supposed to object to the rather blatant gender roles being played out in the choreography and partnering but I have to admit I was fully drawn into the work. And that is because, first, the partnering work was phenomenal (think San Francisco-based Core, except sexier) and second, in performance, Stegnar is the fiercest hellcat I have ever seen in my life. I could see her literally ripping a beating heart from a man and eating it. She dances with the wildest abandon of youth. I was wincing in the audience but thoroughly intrigued. And Potocan oozes his way above the stage like molten lava: smooth and dangerous. The work is also full of powerful images, including the four dancers hanging from hand loops like meat; and the lively music and commentary by Silence (Boris Benko and Primoz Hladnik).

Betontanc has come to La Mama in New York several times before. When they come again. See them. For more information, contact Bunker Productions at bunker@siol.net.

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