Down Memory's Busy Street

Festivals and games in 18th-century France and in the postmodern, multicultural village

Seeing Gabri Christa's Dominata is like coming upon a street alive with activity and rich with laughter and color. The street could be in New York; in Curaçao, where Christa was born; in Amsterdam, where she trained; or in Cuba, where she once ran a dance group. Her heritage runs through her body as she stands in a spotlight undulating, twisting, swinging her hips, tossing her arms, and speaking in several languages. In a vibrant red outfit by Liz Prince, her hair in two long braids, she's both a gorgeous woman and the bright, mischievous child she must have been.

Intermittent text by Latasha N. Diggs strikes the ear the way street conversations do: Questions, vocalizing, and poetry surface from and sink back into fine music (on tape) by Greg Tate's witty jazz group Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. Memory is a theme. The question Christa poses to Diggs (another beautiful woman and powerful singer), "How come you never asked me why I came here?" is answered, or not, at the end with "one of those things"—barely heard as the lights fade on the group talking softly around a table.

The unifying motif is the game of dominoes. Marilys Ernst's large, soft-focus video images of players are projected willy-nilly on translucent white drapes. Erik C. Bruce's lighting features dots and spotlit pools. There are always people sitting at one of the several movable white tables, where the chink of the tiles serves as light percussion. Kibitzers egg on a slo-mo bout. Four magnificent men (Niles Ford, Nathan Trice, Gen Hashimoto, and Julio Arroyo) spell each other in "matches"—on the tables, on the chairs, expanding the notion of competition into robust but always watchful dancing. (Ford and Trice collaborated with Christa on the choreography.) While Christa and Alysia Ramos settle down to a game, Justice Dilla X prowls like a snake in the Garden. He's all insinuating, woozy sugar in a wonderfully sexy spoken-sung dialogue with Diggs. When she lilts, "I remember his rock candy," he counters, "Be careful of remembering."

Fête in Venice: New York Baroque
photo: Alison McBride
Fête in Venice: New York Baroque

Details

Gabri Christa Danzaisa
Dance Theater Workshop
September 15 through 18

New York Baroque Dance Company
Florence Gould Hall
September 10 through 12

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Christa and Ford perform two duets—her catlike coiled softness a to-die-for contrast to his big, warm, loose strength. In the first one, Diggs, who's been asking questions as if to herself, begins to circle the dancers, angrily yelling the queries at them ("Why do you want to wash my feet on Sundays?" "Why do you need to wear this ring?" are two I recall), while their bodies shudder and twitch in response. The concluding exhausted embrace paves the way for their later, sensual floor duo.

Gradually Marcel Stomp (Christa's father) enters the action. In a panama hat, with a lazy, get-down roll to his hips, he leads an unruly procession of carnival revelers that periodically coalesces into order. Dominata is a rich stew, its ingredients layered and then stirred. Are Christa's ideas always clear? No. But by the end, I'm about to burst with happiness.

A different sort of carnival arrives onstage in "Les Fêtes Vénitiennes," the latest offering by Catherine Turocy's New York Baroque Dance Company and Concert Royal, the expert early-music ensemble led by James Richman at the harpsichord. Turocy and members of her troupe have imaginatively reconstructed comic dances for commedia dell'arte characters, plus other eccentric and mysterious figures, pictured in Gregorio Lambranzi's 1716 New and Curious Schools of Theatrical Dancing. (The manual's 150 illustrations include brief descriptions of each scene and a notated tune across the top of every page.) These little numbers delight in trickery and acrobatics—a far cry from the refined court and theater dances of the 18th century but influential in the development of ballet.

After the opening parade, and after a street singer dressed as Scaramouche (the golden-voiced Ava Pine) urges on the dance, beguiling us and cloaked, masked watchers with glitteringly ornamented melody, the characters succeed one another onstage: the antic masked Harlequin (Carolyn Copeland) with his little sword and waggling hips and his piqued Columbine (Sarah Edgar); a blindfolded female juggler (Turocy) with a mask on the back of her head and one on her face. (Surprise! She does better with flying silk scarves she can see.) A slatternly pair (Copeland and Timothy Wilson) spar across a table, using plates as percussion and weapons. A magician whose wand goes limp (Wilson again) controls—for a while—a stately gypsy (Ani Udovicki). Another Scaramouche (Seth Williams) does a shrinking-growing act. There's a mock tennis game with a huge ball, and two NYBDC standbys: the trick-costumed boy (Turocy) apparently carried in a basket by an old woman, and a three-legged dancer (Udovicki). Transitions are ragged and badly timed, but the numbers are gems.

The second half of the evening features more commedia characters, some of them in 18th-century choreography by Descan and Louis Pécour, while Pine sings a ravishing cantata, "L'Amour en Saltimbanques,"from André Campra's 1710 opera Les Fêtes Vénitiennes. And Patricia Beaman, celebrating her 20th year with the company, dances Lully's "Passacaille d'Armide" (1683), which has noble-style choreography by Anthony L'Abbé. The silk-gowned, masked temptress, with her gracious bearing, gentle risings and sinkings, and complex footsteps tracing filigrees on the stage, creates an almost mesmerizing effect—stopping time in its tracks.

 
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