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Review 1, 9-19: Keep it!
Cortez & Company on 9/11, Yeats, and More
By Anne Zuerner
Copyright 2002 Anne Zuerner
NEW YORK -- Cortez &
Co. Contemporary/Ballet plunged into the sanctuary of Danspace Project
at St. Marks Church last weekend, as part of Dance Access, with
a lush and varied program. This lively company managed to summon
images as disparate as a spring forest and desktop graphics. In
the world of Modern Dance, constantly reinventing itself, Hernando
Cortez's vocabulary is traditional while also stretching the boundaries
of ballet. Although Cortez's style is not entirely new, he works
within set boundaries to create dances of varying aesthetics.
In "The Man and the
Echo," Cortez derived his theme from the W.B. Yeats poem of the
same name. Dancers wafted onto the stage, with blue chiffon pouring
from their limbs, courtesy of costume designer Edward Sylvia. They
pranced like deer and billowed like clouds to the flourishes of
Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite. I saw a forest buzzing in springtime,
the struggle for survival momentarily gone with the disappearance
of winter. Amidst the commotion, Francisco Graciano danced a solo
of deliberation, like a fairy tale prince asking the trees for guidance
("Should I marry the woman I love, or the woman my parents have
chosen?"). A moment of repeated jumps in place, arms thrusting for
the sky, revealed the troublesome burden of gravity, like a lasso
yanking him back into his life. In the end, the prince dies, and
his chorus of women bows and sways like weeping trees at his resting
body, until they echo his fall, dropping one by one in his shadow.
When he rises, chest skyward in their wake, we see that death has
freed him from the burden of life.
Cortez appeared next,
a gentle warrior adorned with a lei of fresh flowers, which I could
smell from my seat. The solo, "Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u," by Earnest
T. Morgan and staged by Rachel Berman, with music by Jerry Santos
and the Olomana Group, had Cortez moving like a storyteller, leading
the audience through stomping tales of fighting a wild boar, enjoying
the company of a butterfly, or rowing his boat through the choppy
ocean water. Cortez's smile is what I imagine Hawaiian sunshine
would feel like; his kind face is so genuine, watching him dance
is like talking to a friend.
In "Bang," by Cortez, the
performers traded in their gossamer fabrics and benevolent expressions
for slick, color block unitards, by Gino Ventura, and steely, intimidating
glares. Dancers were tied together in small unison duets, like sets
of colorful clones dispersed in a Salvador Dali landscape. The music,
by David Lang and Bang on a Can, drove the dancers like machinery
in a factory, prodding them into space with utilitarian boldness.
Movements alternated between virtuosic and a simple yet strange, soft
motion, reminiscent of the bouncing Internet Explorer icon. These
dancers were containing something eruptive, an intensity that boiled
below a deliberately cool exterior, like a covered, stainless steal
sauce pan with bubbling water within. Two images remain clear in my
mind. One is Joan Chiang's simple yet earnest moment of transcendence,
as she yearned for the sky, arms waving like seaweed, quieting the
landscape for just a moment. The second is of the dancers standing
single file stage left, legs wide apart, while their right hands,
tapping their thighs nervously, revealed the anxiety behind the composure.
I can just see Cortez saying, "Keep it!"as a dancer stood listening
to a comment in rehearsal, tapping her thigh unknowingly.
I was apprehensive about
seeing a dance made in response to 9/11. Luckily, Cortez's "Two
Hours That Shook the World" read more like a loving memorial than
a response to something unspeakably tragic. Two white panels of
fabric hung from the tall ceiling of the sanctuary, like ghosts.
As women in solid colored dresses and men in business suits moved
urgently around the towers, a black and white projection, beautifully
fractured between the fabric and the wall in the distance, played
a video recording of the same dance in rehearsal, with dancers in
pants and leotards, white walls and barres for their backdrop. The
simultaneous images revealed two worlds that are at once utterly
divided and intertwined. On stage, men and women ran, at times in
slow motion and at times with a speed that only a disaster can inspire,
while on screen, dancers poured their sweat over the insular task
of creating a work of art. The video illustrated just how powerfully
context can transform a dance and how dance can transform a situation.
With business suits and references to a cityscape, a dance about
something ambiguous becomes a moment we all can recall in our own
lives, whether it is September 11 or the office we go to every morning
at 9:00, what it smells like, how we sit down at our desk. By recalling
a shared experience, we are comforted by our unity. In difficult
times, dance is both frivolous and necessary.
Cortez and Co. is a
solid group of dancers with a strong leader. My only reservation
is that the performers come off as too determined. I missed a feeling
of abandon. I wanted to see more calm, confident dancing, or real
moments of vulnerability. At times, the physicality felt forced.
I also missed a calmness in the choreography. Sometimes, the phrasing
was so dense, and the movement patterns so swift and constant that
I was overwhelmed by the demand on my attention.
Anne Zuerner is a freelance writer and graduate of Barnard College
who lves in New York City.
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