Brutal Garden

At "Altogether Different" (Joyce Theater, January), Compagnie Flak presented José Navas's Perfume de Gardenias, a work of terror flawed by moments of absurdity. Imagine a garden at the edge of an abyss, filled with strange flowers and looming, hyperalert creatures. Harsh sounds boomed, and "Bitter Mommy"—a male voice at once mechanical and godlike—uttered nauseating cruelties that could send Mommie Dearest running for cover. The six superb performers approached nudity, drama, and frequently demanding choreography—whipping and thrashing so rapid that the dancers' limbs left blurry afterimages—with equal discipline. Crisp in design and execution, this intriguing piece nevertheless stumbled at times, shaking us out of our acid trip. A dancer crawled around the stage planting blossoms, then—with unintended hilarity—rose to his feet and bellowed (allergy season, perhaps?). Audience members fleeing his roars missed the recorded gay phone-sex tidbits: "I want to give you a long, slow blowjob . . . but you must be 18 to 35 years old." Fireflies swarmed as night finally shrouded the garden, once again hiding what we'd rather not see.

In La Degradation des Droits Civiques/Zero Tolerance (P.S. 122, January), Niles Ford walked a fine, slippery line between dazzling us with easy glamour and impressing us with genuine power. A man at a forum I once addressed sneered that I looked too strong to ever have been victimized, so I sympathized with Ford and his gorgeous mosaic troupe critiquing social realities from police brutality to prisons to the selection of Dubya. But their preening and dancing—rooted in African, Afro-Atlantic, and club moves—shouted, "We're alive, proud, and fabulous!" Truth be told, that message may be exactly what we need to hear.

 
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