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Flash Review, 12-9: 'Disparate'
Tip-toeing Through the 'Misterios' with Monica Valenciano

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

Photo copyright Teresa Serigo

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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.
Mónica Valenciano. Teresa Serigó photo copyright Teresa Serigó and courtesy Theatre de la Bastille.

I 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.

Monica Valenciano's "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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