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Flash Review 1, 8-13: A Course in Miracles
Avila, like the Phoenix, Rises (With a Little Help from King and a Few Other Friends)

By Julia Ward
Copyright 2002 Julia Ward

WASHINGTON -- Homer Avila's program Saturday at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage opened with the provocative and funny film "Dubious Faith," which imagines Avila as a priest steadily seduced by a long-legged and determined temptress (co-choreographer Edisa Weeks). Filmed before Avila lost his right leg and hip last year to chondro sacrcoma, a rare form of cancer, the recorded piece has Avila skittishly surrendering to his desires and accomplishing the difficult physical task of walking on the tops of two up-ended wine glasses. The perfect distribution of his weight is crucial in turning the fragility of the material -- glass -- into its exact strength. The act might serve as an apt metaphor for what Avila calls his "new morphology," a new way of looking at his bodily material and technique. Small adjustments to balance executed in tiny shifts and jumps of his left foot, along with the precise counterbalance of his exquisitely refined arms, turn Avila's "new morphology" into an incessant source of strength and beauty.

The centerpiece of this program -- Avila's first of his own since the operation -- was the much-anticipated premiere of Alonzo King's "Pas de Deux" for Avila and his worthy partner, Andrea Flores. The austere, angular choreography is perfectly suited to Avila's hyper-controlled musculature. The adjustments in balance he makes while standing, without crutches or a prosthetic limb, may appear necessary to maintain his stance, but one is forced to rethink the body's capabilities in a section where the, at turns, dependent and confrontational Flores pushes Avila down to the ground repeatedly. Each time, he snaps back up to perfect attention and stillness. The angularity of Avila's quick arm combinations and Flores's stark, specific arabesques, accompanied by the compositions of Pauline Oliveros, give way to more sumptuous dancing as the drone of Medieval chanting takes over. All in all, it is a gorgeous piece of choreography and imagination. King has said of this work with Avila that "any limitations are only in the mind. He was turning on one leg, jumping on one leg, using his elbow, using that body to find new ways to speak in dance."

Avila's program also contained the solo work "Not/Without Words," a monologue that places Avila first invisibly inside a box. Tossing out shoes, then a sock, and so on, Avila reveals himself with the words, "I lost my shoe." A comical first jab at his obvious loss of more than his shoe, the piece continues with a both funny and increasingly poignant litany of loss. "I lost my innocence," he offers as he tosses a teddy bear from the box. Falling out of the box, Avila begins a dance that is both daring -- with several jumps and turns -- and vulnerable as embodied in his falls to the floor. It is, in the end, when he stands staunch still on his left leg atop a small, school child's desk, that Avila intones, "I lost my leg. I lost my fear." The full poignancy of the piece arrives in the strength of his stance and his words. The only complaint I have is that many dancers' work is undercut by self-conscious readings of text -- a self-consciousness that most actors work against. This weakness was present in Avila's reading -- as he partially swallowed his last, most important phrase. It is a small complaint, and one that is subjectively debated as the amateurish recitation lent a certain humanity to the proceedings.

The program concluded with an improvisational section with Avila dancing both with crutches and without. Throughout the piece, individuals seated around the stage, all with different approaches to mobility whether through the use of a cane, wheelchair or no such apparatus, made their way to Avila one-by-one, helping him to the floor and sustaining contact with him for a number of seconds. Avila's solo was gorgeously danced with every conceivable level and movement possibility exploited, but it was in the moments of quiet interaction between himself and those on the stage that the tenderness and possibilities of humanity's awkwardness and sound abilities came through.

The program was rounded out by musical interludes by composer and musician Miguel Frasconi.

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