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Review, 8-26: Women's Work
Rituals from Arreola; Watch out, Pina -- Here comes Garong
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- Two concerts
created and performed entirely by women, one group from Mexico,
the other from California, were the kinds of lucky finds one hopes
for at the New York International Fringe Festival.
"El Sueno de Sor Juana,"
presented at the Greenwich Street Theatre by Dora Arreola's five-woman
troupe Mujeres en Ritual, is based on a classic poem by the 17th-Century
poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. The thousand lines of the poem "El
Sueno" constitute the text, spoken live and on tape by the dancers,
principally Mara Maciel, who represents Sor Juana. Fluency in Spanish
might have been helpful here to understand the words, but a helpful
Fringe volunteer informed me that the poem deals with the path from
ignorance to enlightenment. Choreographer/director Arreola takes
us on a journey from nightfall to daybreak as her metaphoric structure.
Maciel speaks the text
in rich, clear tones; Daniela Rodriguez, Grissel Aviles, and Maria
Vale huddle on the ground with backpacks. The three then move slowly
toward the silver fringe curtain upstage, and take off their hiking
clothes to reveal garish club-going outfits, wild wigs, and three-inch
platform pumps with nine-inch heels. Like a trio of Tina Turner
impersonators, these ladies of the night strut and tease to blasting
Soon, modern dance movement
replaces in-your-face bump-and-grind on the tiny stage of this intimate
venue. Showing influences of mime, gymnastics, and classic modern
the danced passages, though hardly original, gain authority through
intense concentration by these deeply committed dancing actors.
As we move through the night, costume changes go from mauve to black
and camisole tops and stretch pants; moods shift from seductive
to sober to reflective to penitent.
In a duet, the two smaller
women pitch into forward pitch falls, Graham-style, over each other's
prostrate bodies. In the ensuing solo, the larger woman builds a
universe with simple dramatic gestures and the electric intensity
of her focus. From time to time, guitarist Magdalena Loza behind
the silver curtain backs the action with delicate melodies, momentarily
replacing the atmospheric soundscape.
Director Arreola also
designed the set, which includes a hanging, knotted rope for the
dancers to climb on, and the lighting, which enhances the atmosphere
with sparse resources. A nasty seductress in a silvery sheath and
cascading blonde wig tries to seduce us but gradually disintegrates
emotionally, staggering around in one blood-red stiletto, clutching
the other in her hand, until she finally collapses in a heap.
Accompanied by the guitarist,
now in a white robe, the other two dancers strip to beige bras and
black briefs and dance together. They seem to be moving from sin
toward redemption. Then all four women stroll and chat in elegant
black dresses -- the socially respectable counterparts of the oversexed
vixens we met at the beginning.
As we progress towards
morning, the dancers don filmy white ponchos. Maciel, looking priestly
in long white robe with black surplice, concludes her impressive
monologue-with-movement, and all kneel facing the sunrise behind
the cascade of silver fringe.
The second all-female troupe landed at the Wollman Lounge at Cooper
Union, another unaccustomed venue for dance, where two rows of seats
on risers, accommodating only about 30 viewers, face a parquet floor.
Six ladder-back chairs, evenly spaced along an expanse of black
drapery covering the windows, stand empty, waiting. The six women
of Garung (German for "disquiet"), making their East Coast debut,
enter the space and proceed to enrapture us with their eponymous
movement-based theatre piece.
For 80 fascinating minutes,
they dance, sing, and speak. Recorded accompaniment ranges from
Prokofiev's "Romeo & Juliet" to old standards in unusual arrangements:
"Isle of Capri" sung in French; Jack Benny's themesong "Love in
Bloom," sung in German; Marlene Dietrich's rendition of Lerner and
Loewe's "Accustomed to her Face." The piece is a continuum of images,
featuring this cast of fierce women, ranging in age from 27 to 50.
Maturity and presence give meaning to their every action, however
non-linear it be. "Random acts of lunacy pop up at every corner,"
muses Susan Averitt, and that sums it up.
Averitt stacks the chairs
into a sculpture that tries to defy the physics of balance; Terril
Miller basks topless on a bubble-wrap beach towel, popping the bubbles
as she lolls; all five applaud Madeleine Dahm (the performing choreographer)
when she stands on a chair and yanks up the skirt of her red gown.
We don't need reasons, nor do they; we can read whatever meanings
we like into the actions -- or, better, just enjoy the spirited
Tall, wide-eyed Miller
holds her hands in front of her mouth and plays ventriloquist when
Krystyna Hughes moves her lips. Denise Pazienti, a contained, thus
far outwardly reserved woman, violently smashes a bouquet of chrysanthemums
on the floor to a tinkling piano rendition of "Falling Leaves" in
the background. Carol Katz, her cleavage accentuated by a push-up
bra under her strapless gown, rants a fairy tale, peppered with
kibitzing by the others.
The women boast about
their accomplishments and abilities; they hocket the lyrics of a
song among them; they imitate Jimmy Durante "ink-a-dink-a-doo."
Pazienti does a strenuous jig; Hughes lip-syncs "Que Sera;" Miller
does an over-the-top flight attendant's demo. They all ride brooms
and recite witches' lines from "Macbeth" into corners of the room.
Zany, raucous, tender, thoughtful, surreal, Garung, this group of
fabulous women puts one in mind of Pina Bausch's vivid characters,
but they are their own women. There's a collaborative spirit about
the work, and Dahm uses the unique traits of her mature performers
At the end, Pazienti
calmly repots a plant, while the others race around her relocating
the chairs, then climbing onto them and reaching upward. After the
audience's hearty ovation, the women just sit there in the chairs,
spent, until we have left the room. Garung premieres on the West
Coast at the Ivar Theatre in Los Angeles in September.
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