Theater archives

Speaking Many Tongues


In flamenco dance, solitude becomes incendiary. Singers hover over a dancer, inciting her with hoarse cries. Guitarists respond to her rhythmic cues. Colleagues and spectators breathe, “Olé!” Yet the flamenco soloist—male or female—remains locked in a duel with inner demons. Or intent on the cascade of intricate rhythms. The dancer’s sudden aggressive stares seem to say, “So! Understand?”

The intrepid Noche Flamenca, directed by Martin Santangelo, is a company of soloists. Still, dance and music form a society from the start. The wounded voice sounding in darkness belongs to percussionist José Antonio Galicia; from Silverio Heredia’s burst of twisting moves, you’d judge him a dancer, until he sings out, “¡Hay que pena!” while four women dancers clap from their chairs. This opening introduces a cast so distinctive that it seems a miracle when they assemble into unison.

In an alegrias by Santangelo, tall Eva Marin, lashing her black shawl, confronts us with lunges and turns, while Antonio Vizarraga strokes her with his voice. Noe Barroso, furious in his heelwork, draws up his long, slender body as if straining to string a bow. Alejandra Ramirez, little and sinuous, calms him when she prowls into his orbit. Later, Ana Romero, tackling a complex solo alegrias, is a cheerful scold, hitching her polka-dotted dress above a red petticoat, but dancing eventually makes her brood and turns the floor into her enemy.

Bruno Argenta is master of the farruca. Modern interpolations like pirouettes now seem fully integrated into his powerful dancing. His legs, knife-sharp, snap him into surprising moves. The singers challenge him, but Argenta’s feet build their own potent music, dense and rapid. One heel shivers against the floor.

You might expect the evening to end with la plaza—dancers, singers, percussionist, and guitarists Arcadio Marin and José Valle “Chuscales” mingling their skills. Instead, the magnificent Soledad Barrio dances a solea in a plain dark dress, no train, with small roses in her hair. When she bends, you think, how deep can deep be? When she pulls up, you think she’ll snap if she lifts any higher. She arches backward as if the dance were bearing down on her. So impassioned are her bursts of footwork, her sudden wrenched turns, that she looks dazed when she stops. The dance goes on and on, goaded by mourning guitars and choked voices. Barrio projects not just the solea‘s expected pain, but vulnerability and courage.

Young dancer friends rave about a performance they’ve just seen. “Phenomenal energy!” they say, eyes glowing. And “I don’t know how they kept it up!” Ordeal, an alternative virtuosity in the 1970s, had, by the 1980s, embraced emotional trials. Remember Pina Bausch’s dancers stumbling out to bow, too drained even to smile? And how their dedication pushed the applause a notch higher?

A similar blend of raw, gut-pounding physicality and spiritual nudity certainly roused cheers for Wim Vandekeybus’s In Spite of Wishing and Wanting, the initial dance offering of the Lincoln Center Festival. As in the Belgian’s stunning Les porteuses de mauvaises nouvelles, which played the Kitchen in 1989, the performers undertake arduous or bizarre tasks, but In Spite of is less cool in tone, more direct about rousing our emotions. I liked a lot of it a lot, but by the end, I felt as if I, like the 11 men hurling themselves to the floor in synchronized violence, had been battered.

The subject seems to be dreams, foiled desires, and the fallibility of language. (Film segments, based on a Julio Cortázar story, star a fateful peddler of words.) In the piece’s marvelous opening, men crash about in the dark at the back, kicking drums and things that clatter: a disorganized overture to David Byrne’s splendid mystic-apocalypse score. Giovanni Scarcella and Igor Paszkiewicz recount an intense tale in Italian, but they’re sitting on chairs, yoked at the neck and leaning apart to talk, so that each one’s speech punishes the other. The cast becomes a herd of wild horses pawing, snuffling, skittering, and shying away from the unfamiliar edge of the stage. Vandekeybus himself remains a lone, questing horse, browsing in the background.

Members of this primal all-male society dream on their feet like horses, heads cradled on arms. They feel their mouths wounded by the bit. Scarcella gentles a naked, howling wild man (German Jauregui Allue). Benoit Gôb and Piotr Torzawa Giro argue loudly: Which of them owns the words of their fantasies? In a tender moment, men pair up and dance ballroom style after matching the halves of oranges that often malevolent presiding stage manager Christophe Olry has split. But even fake snow doesn’t muffle the impact of their thudding, remorseless, damaged virility.

The key word is radiance. The city of Bologna commissioned Bill T. Jones to reflect the radiance of Latin-Mediterranean culture in its New World manifestations. In You Walk?, Jones shuns the arena of politics and race to create a luminous chain of ritual games. Bjorn G. Amelan’s transparent white panels transform the stage into a shape-shifting temple as they rise and descend in Robert Wierzel’s magical lighting. Music fusions tease the ear: Brazilian chant in Gregorian style; bits of a gorgeous Baroque Italian opera, San Ignacio, intended to preach Christianity in the Amazon; Mozart on a boombox. Flying steps reminiscent of Africa blend with whirring balletic beats.

A tape of John Cage reading the soft, melodious gibberish of his Empty Words fuels the concept of speech in mutation—still forming, or eroding. The dancers twitter and call with the birds on a recording from Zambia. Jumping, they expel their breaths in a “huh!” Playful as kids, they push individuals from the group to show what they can do (these tiny solos are wonderfully bright and witty) and babble approvals. Germaul Barnes wraps his tongue around a beautiful phantom language, and Daniel Russell Kubert can swear at him in another. Jones gives form to the mysteriousness of the opera’s message: The wonderful Miguel Anaya, in brilliant red, is clearly the hero-saint, but each of two solicitous angels sinks into the arms of a pair of demons and frolics with apparently clear conscience.

You Walk? is a beautiful production. Jones creates handsome moving architecture (the group, for instance, passes Toshiko Oiwa in a full circle through a traveling tunnel of legs). Some of the contrasts are stunning: Couples in colored tunics join in an elegant dance at one side, while Barnes and Oiwa fling their limbs into a wilder pattern behind a panel—the indigenous and the colonizers peaceably juxtaposed. The other dancers who provide their own radiance include Alexandra Beller, Stefanie Batten Bland, Eric Bradley, Catherine Caheen, Christian Canciani, and Ayo Janeen Jackson.