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Flash Review 2, 12-31: Don't Think, Dance
Maneca Takes Positions

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2002 Chris Dohse

NEW YORK -- In an interview with Jim Bauer printed in the program for his recent evening at Here, Fernando Maneca describes himself as a "hybrid artist." As a performer, he dances, acts and sings. In addition to choreographing and writing or co-writing the texts for both pieces on the Here program, Maneca filmed video segments and composed some of the music. Being a jack of all trades is a strength and evidences a man deeply engaged in the ideas behind his work, but in this case it also creates a cluttered quality that ultimately weakens both pieces. His dancing throughout the evening is consistently compelling, with a tai chi-like precision. I usually like some meat with my potatoes, but sometimes I found myself wishing he would think about things a little less and just dance.

In "Today I Am Feeling a Bit Less Cynical," Maneca physicalizes the interior landscape of a man isolated in the urban hustle. He could be Anderson's Sharkey or Thurber's Mitty or any number of midtown office drone wage slaves. At first we see only his shadow thrown against a semi-transparent screen, his vertical axis looming like a crucified savior. A video-projected sidewalk scene and a collection of female commuters waiting on a bench complete a visual triptych. A male voice recites the minute-by-minute activities of his morning wake-up ritual.

A gestural add-on episode where figures walk forward from the bench to see if the bus is coming is the strongest fragment of group movement in "Cynical," and is surprisingly interrupted by the clear tone of Maneca's singing. The cast is appropriately diverse in terms of body type and race, but the fact that they are all young and female troubles me. None of them quite capture the ease or clarity of Maneca's own dancing. Liam Clancy's video of Maneca contemplatively repeating gestures while seated in a subway car cut with Maneca dancing in a concrete subway station, divided by the framing of a screen that bisects the space, is quite powerful. Maneca enacts the disturbed muttering of a sidewalk nut job at the same time in another area of the stage. Either of these episodes could be an effective ending to the piece, and both are richly layered. They are too much to take in at once though.

For "Just Like a Man," Maneca intersperses movement solos (many created for him by other choreographers) with video interview footage and monologues. The work intends to dig under the stereotypes our culture shares about what it is to be male. In the first danced solo, "Western Flannel," Karen Bernard's choreography mimics the iconic postures of the cowboy. Maneca embodies this physicality easily, with a dignity and intelligence that transcend parody, but neither he nor Bernard manage to communicate how they feel about the hackneyed trope of the hypermasculine Marlboro man. They simply recreate it. His movement is stripped to its essence with nothing extraneous or fussy. In this solo, as in the next -- Shannon Hummel's "The Fall" -- Maneca's limbs have the real gravity of pedestrian actions, yet stay expressive.

Maneca dances with vulnerability and power in two other solos, "In a Dark Wood," choreographed by himself, and Aviva Geismar's "Nothing in Tow." "Wood" maintains a violent, sacred ritual energy. Silhouettes that might be taken from Flamenco or hip-hop posturing erupt from Maneca's persistent rhythmic cadences. Geismar showcases Maneca's movement facility beautifully, allowing him to repeat phrase material and evoke a fragile boyhood that stays true, even when Ravel flourishes a bit too fawningly on the piano keyboard.

In a final installation/performance using video created by Liam Clancy, Maneca clearly positions himself somewhere between the traditional male and the internal feminine. Yet the piece leaves me with several questions and no insight into the essential nature of maleness that I didn't already have. Perhaps Maneca is also only at the beginning of this inquiry?

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