La Serpiente, a contemporary dance company based in Morelia, Mexico, performed on Sunday night at the Performing Arts Center at UAlbany. (Photo by Gloria Minauro)
Good dancers deserve good choreography.
But that’s not what happened on Sunday night at UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center. The marvelous movers of La Serpiente had the challenge of making tepid choreography with a thin premise into something meaningful. And despite their efforts in achieving some sublime moments, their talents couldn’t upend the monotony of “Treatise About the Line.”
Choreographed by Laura Martinez Ayala, the industrial-like piece centers on a supple line that stretched from wing to wing. Four dancers, Liliana Rosales Merlos, Francisco Javier Esqueda Plascencia, Francisco Javier Ponce Orozco and Abdiel Villasenor Talavera, interacted with the line – slipping over and under it, caressing it, following it and getting tied up in it.
But the line never spoke, it was just an object that didn’t seem to have any influence on those who encountered it. It was not dangerous or desirable. It was just there, a limp prop that Ayala didn’t use to advance an engaging plight. Thus, for the duration, which was an hour, the dancers were bumping up against a Spadex rope without projecting a message or providing a payoff.
This was difficult to write as the show was part of La Serpiente’s first tour of America. The ensemble is from Mexico, a place where few contemporary dance companies hail, so I wanted to root for them, to express that they were the dancing neighbor to the south that we have been longing to see.
Alas, that was not to be.
However, the dancers were special. Much of their movement was bold, reminiscent of contact improvisation that was popular in the 1970s where bodies launched bodies beyond their solo abilities. The men were especially adept – able to trustingly share their weight to achieve mid-air poses that hint at aggression but also compassion.
The piece also reeked of atmosphere. With an airy and percussive electronic score by Pedro Vargas Madrigal, it felt like the dancers were sneaking around the bowels of an abandoned factory. At times they were stiff and robotic, other times floppy and fluid, but again, it sadly added up to obtuseness.
It did lead to a lot of questions as to what the Ayala was aiming for. Were the players expected to toe the line, step out of line, put their life on the line, cross the line? They did none of these or if they did, it wasn’t communicated. Thus, the outcome was an audience that mentally pleaded for an end.
It was unfortunate that these dancers had to settle for tedious to get a ticket to a North American tour. Let's hope they get second chance and a better dance.
Adam Weinert's "Anthem" is a cautionary tale of where America is today.
Choreographer Adam Weinert asked, if America’s anthem was written today, what would it be?
As portrayed by his work “Anthem,” as seen in Rensselaer’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, it would be dark, exclusive and divided. And for the audience who watched it unfold on Friday night, it struck a chord of disturbing truth.
Weinert’s choreography, in which everything but the lighting is black, began with a dancer dressed in judicial-looking robe taking away everything from the already mostly barren stage – a music pod, a large fan that blew wind and a banner that ruffled it’s the breeze. He then climbed the back wall of the stage to sit immovable and perched above the dance or fray as it unfolded below.
In silence, Weinert was the first to come into view. Laying on the floor, he was a restless as he tossed and tumbled as if wrestling with a nightmare. He was also tethered by a long black cloth, that he stretched and pulled, bound to an invisible force from which he tussled to be freed.
Then the rest of the ensemble appeared from a hidden stage door. Holding lights that swing with their movement and cast dramatic shadows on the floors and walls, the five dancers stepped in unison – until they don’t.
A couple breaks off and engages in a duet that was rich with lifts that looked awkward but were meant, I think, to show support. However, as a strob lights started to flash, their unity broke. It felt like bombs were dropping and one of them was a casualty.
There were other casualties too – Brandon Washington danced the tortuous solo representing the Black man in America – always fighting but being pushed to the side. Cynthia Koppe was the symbol of poverty. Wiping the floor with the long black cloth, she stumbled continually, not able to find footing in a society that favors the rich.
Weinert also used this long cloth to teach a societal lesson that despite our differences, we are literally tied together. Even the aloof judge came off his high place to show that he too is a part of the stew as he became entangled with the others.
Weinert, who created with fascinating work with Yebel Gallegos, used lighting brilliantly. The handheld lights, a metaphor for truth, ended up hanging off a wooden structure that I first thought was a stretcher and then a ladder. But this long looking object, carried by the dancers, never rose up to allow a higher reach. It stayed parallel to the floor with the lights hanging down – illuminating only the bottom.
The dancers ended by proceeding off stage in a somber parade. The dancer in the lead carrying the structure forward was blinded by another, a clear signal that America is moving into unseen territory. Others like Koppe struggled to keep up, falling constantly and in the end was battered and left behind.
“Anthem” did what all art should do, make one ponder. And in this case, audiences pondered where we are as a nation. Ultimately, it is a cautionary tale that I fear few will consider.