Rich and Strange

Three Women Ignite Asian Traditions

The West has a tradition of borrowing from the East. Margarita Guergué's six-month residency in Japan and her studies with butoh artist Kazuo Ohno have exerted an oblique yet potent influence on her De Flor—from such stylistic aspects as having tongues (live and on film) acknowledged as important actors in the theater of physicality to a profound concern with the elemental. De Flor is spare and slow-paced compared with Guergué's earlier work (always odd, always compelling). The atmosphere at P.S.122 seems haunted by people whose behavior and bodies are always a little askew, who move together and alone as if guided by some instinctual patterns they must fulfill. Hahn Rowe's music—delicate and sparse much of the time—adds droplets of mystery to the strange atmosphere.

In the beginning, five people sit around Mimi Goese's luminous box. With the help (I assume) of lighting designer Tal Yarden, its colors gradually change. The five lean very slowly this way and that, faces slack, eyes sometimes closed. Even open-eyed, they seem less to see than to sense—like animals snuffing the wind. Wearing pajamas, Guergué and Cydney Wilkes stumble in like novice walkers or half-asleep kids. As they stand blankly side by side, Guergué extrudes from her mouth a wad that suddenly opens into a flower. Wilkes grabs it with her mouth, and they stumble out.

These two keep rolling in, doing a little something, and leaving. They crawl through a barely moving forest of figures of all ages who wear white clothes by Paula Ferreya. Everyone looks slightly off-balance. Are those marbles rolling across a floor in Goese's film? Or bubbles in a pool? People revolve like sour fashion models. Time passes so slowly that I stare at a safety pin on one performer's costume, chart the droplet of sweat rolling down from an armpit, compare tongues when a group offers them for inspection. Guergué and Vicky Shick dance alone together, channeling their limbs into invisible crevices. As when I watch butoh, boredom and fascination mingle so curiously that they become indistinguishable. The piece is pretty inscrutable until the end, when Guergué and Wilkes vary the flower act. Wilkes drops her own blossom to take the one blooming from Guergué's mouth. But Guergué has another coming. A brilliant juxtaposition on Guergué's part of human covetousness and cyclical inevitability.

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