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Review, 12-9: 'Disparate'
Tip-toeing Through the 'Misterios' with Monica Valenciano
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
Photo copyright Teresa
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PARIS -- So I decided
to take a chance last night and invite my non-dance friend X to
a performance by a post-modern artist I'd never seen before. Regular
readers will recall we'd narrowly avoided a catastrophe last week when I decided not to invite X to Alain Buffard's
insider indulg-o-fest "Mauvais Genre." (My friend is open to new
experiences and generally speaking artistically oriented, but I
didn't want to abuse that.) Reading French dance oracle Jean-Marc
Adolphe's program notes likening Spanish dancer-choreographer Monica
Valenciano to in-your-face pre-war German cabaret performer Valeska
Gert did not exactly instill me with confidence. My last encounter with "Valeska" had terminated with the
choreographer-performer channeling her, a friend in real life, spitting
in my face. I had made the mistake of ignoring the strange look
the performer's husband gave me when I'd decided to sit in the front
row. So as X and I stationed ourselves in row 2 of the upstairs
blackbox at the Theatre de la Bastille last night, staring at a
projection of a previous audience staring back at us, I prepared
myself for the worst.
I was quickly re-assured.
After the spots dim, we hear the creaking sound of a chair being
dragged haltingly across the stage. Flitting in and out of the triangles
of light provided by the projection appears the face of a curious
waif, her shoulders draped in a blanket, peering out at us. Arriving
at downstage left (my companion and I were on the right), Valenciano
settles on the chair, which is turned somewhat upstage, and places
at its feet, with mumbled delight and an expansive grin at us over
her shoulder, an open bottle of champagne, then a sort of upside-down
silver goblet. At upstage left, directly behind her, is an up-ended
cot with a note pinned to it and a small spiny ball perched on its
top. This will be ignored by the performer.
Valenciano. Teresa Serigó photo copyright Teresa Serigó
and courtesy Theatre de la Bastille.
struggle with capturing how Valenciano moves delicately across the
stage, until realizing that she is landing on various atypical surfaces
of her feet -- balls and heels but also sides and toes. This has
the effect of tilting her often-hunched torso. Then before you know
what's happened, she's donned her high-heels again, balancing tentatively
in the shoes like an eight-year-old trying on mom's for the first
time, trying to carrying herself like a grown-up and comically not
succeeding. Her dress -- pedestrian, yes, but atypically so -- accentuates
such a reading from life: loose-fitting black slacks, a loose shirt,
and a sort of gray-blue sweater-smock over it. Adolphe likens her
singing to that of a canary; I don't know about that, but her squinched
face reminds of an inquisitive bird.
Also setting her apart
from the typical post- (or maybe I mean post-post-) modern -- besides
the creative use of her feet's many surfaces, I mean -- is her languorous
arms. Perhaps I was looking for this -- Valenciano coming from the
land of flamenco -- but everything from her gracious epaulement
to her hypnotically curling fingers and winding wrists makes me
realize that more typically, the arms as a sculptural canvas in
and of themselves are forgotten by post-post-moderns (who apparently
haven't seen a lot of Trisha Brown.) Her curling spine and dipping
head also evoke Spain's more famous dance form.
Based on my own slim
knowledge, anyway, I can't really see where Adolphe saw Valeska
here. Rather than smash the wall between performer and audience,
Valenciano quietly cajoles it open. She starts by inchoate mumbling,
progresses to words -- mostly in Spanish but also in French, English,
and Italian -- and even directs these imperatives towards individual
audience members, pointing them out and addressing them inquisitively
and encouragingly. She corals one lissome young woman to trade places
with her and take a group photo (really, with a disposable camera)
of the audience; just when the spectator is prepared to resume her
comfortable anonymity, the performer says (or indicates), "Wait!
I want one of you first." There are more teasing intimacies like
this, as when she turns her back, lifts her two smocks, and invites
a spectator to touch her curvy bare back before contracting it at
the last second. Later, she offers the photographer woman the rest
of the champagne; it was deployed earlier when Valenciano relocated
from downstage left to upstage right, spreading her blanket on the
ground, placing the goblet on the chair, then pouring the bubbly
into the goblet until it overflowed onto the chair and trickled
over the edge onto the stage -- shadowed on the blank upstage screen,
an elegant fountain. From this point, the artist was shadowed too,
moving slowly to, for the first time, music -- Pau Casals's meloncholic
"El cant des occels," for strings. It has become fainter by the
end when Valenciano firmly plants herself high up in the audience
(and, it seems from my vantage point, on the laps of the spectators),
and directs us, "Look at the stage. Look, look!" as the lights fade.
As "Disparate no. 5:
5 misterios" -- that's the name of the show -- ended seven minutes
before the program indicated it would, about 48 minutes long as
opposed to the projected 55, I wondered if there are variables here.
X -- my non-dance person companion -- said afterwards that every
moment was deliberate.
"Disparate no. 5: 5 misterios," a co-production of the Comunidad
de Madrid / Cuarta Pared y Socaem / El ojo de la faraona will be
performed again tonight, Friday, Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the Theatre de la Bastille. Complementing
this engagement, the theater is also co-presenting, with the Theatre
de la Ville, another Spanish artist, Olga Mesa, with "On Cherche
une Danse," on the same dates but at 9 p.m. with a 5 p.m. Sunday
showtime. For more information, please visit the theater's web site.
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