The man is—has always been—a marvelous storyteller, and he recounts his tales in beautifully chosen, often witty words. He stoops over and makes his voice raspy to become a down-and-out old man who falls in love with a mangy tomcat—a cat who can walk on sharp-edged fences and still have “soft little kittycat paws.” Roussève’s tone is higher and more innocent when he speaks for a slave girl who saw her older sister horribly beaten for teaching her little sibling to write her own name: “Sally.” In one unforgettable scene, Sally is brutally deflowered by her master in a wooden shack with cracks and holes in its walls. She stretches a hand through one of those holes and feels her sister’s tears dropping into her palm.

The seven other vibrant performers—all either faculty members or graduate students in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, where Roussève is a professor—echo aspects of his stories but also contribute more obliquely. It’s not so surprising to watch tall Taisha Paggett let small noises in her throat build up to physical, vocal frenzy, until the others soothe her. Or see Nehara Kalev angrily tie Anjali Tata-Hudson’s feet together and take her away. People fall and roll on. Some crawl along roped together, and others free them. They dance slowly, awkwardly together as if drugged by pain. However, it’s utterly unexpected to listen to Marianne M. Kim emit a fantastic, high ululation that sounds a bit like the flourishes of baroque opera in hyper-drive. Sri Susilowati yells at her to stop, but she can’t. Finally, Susilowati bares her belly, and says teasingly, “You wouldn’t want to miss this.”

The performers occasionally interact with Roussève as he tells his stories (including ones about his own despondence during a hospital stay, and a woman’s account of what she lost and what she gained during the floods that Katrina visited on New Orleans). They also comment on events as they occur in the dance. While Esther M. Baker Tarpaga and Olivier Tarpaga spar playfully in words and movement, Kalev intermittently struts through wearing a bikini and high heels and holding up signs that announce, for example, “Round Two. I think they are faking it.”

Jiseon Kwan and Soyeoun Lim in Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim’s "Kisaeng Becomes You."
Yi-Chun Wu
Jiseon Kwan and Soyeoun Lim in Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim’s "Kisaeng Becomes You."
Sri Susilowati and Taish Paggett in David Roussève’s "Saudade."
Jorge Vismara
Sri Susilowati and Taish Paggett in David Roussève’s "Saudade."

Details

Dean Moss and Yoon Jin Kim
Dance Theater Workshop
February 22 through 28

David RoussŤve/Reality
Alexander Kaiser Theater
Montclair State University
February 12 through 19

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When I ponder what I’ve seen, images that seemed isolated during the performance coalesce in my mind and link more securely to Roussève’s themes. I think back to Susilowati several times offering a red pepper to her colleagues, even offering to pay Roussève a dollar if he’ll try a bite of this Indonesian staple (he pays no attention). Later a close-up video of her appears on a screen. She’s cramming pepper after pepper into her mouth, while tears gradually begin to run down her cheeks. Whatever culture we’re from, is that how we eat life—no matter how much it burns?

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