A Latin Gestalt: Voices and Dance Within the Americas at the Guggenheim


Hristoula Harakas, Jimena Paz and Judith Sánchez Ruiz in “I Will Stay With You Even If You Are Not Here.” Photo courtesy Guggenheim Museum.

Jonah Bokaer, Maray Gutierrez and Judith Sánchez Ruiz, 25 October 2010

by David St.-Lascaux

IN A CONCEPTUALLY BRILLIANT STROKE, the Guggenheim Museum is presenting “Works & Process,” an ongoing series of events in which artists discuss the creative process behind their works. On 25 October 2010, Voices and Dance Within the Americas, single pieces by Jonah Bokaer, Maray Gutierrez and Judith Sánchez Ruiz, were presented with supernal sets, costumes and musical accompaniment, demonstrating not only the obvious – that dance is enhanced by these, but also that multidisciplinary collaboration between gifted artists can make all the difference.

In the context of this event, the Americas meant the Latin Americas, specifically Cuba. Sánchez and Gutierrez are Cuban, and Bokaer has strong connections there as well. And works by the former two featured Latin themes.

The first piece was Bokaer’s “Filter,” an autobiographical dream narrative of a replicated child with three additional selves, featuring four male dancers. “Filter” included many synchronized, if not necessarily consistent (intentionally so) movements in the abrupt and clichéd style of so much modern dance, begging the question of where the pose-striking fashion model runway-influenced dance video ends and actual, bona fide, un-self-absorbed art begins. In contrast, choreographic high points included metronomic arm swinging – the dancers chronographic automata invoking Magical Realism; marchlike and mazewalk movements; and interactions on a balance beamlike goldleaf platform raft, recalling Trisha Brown’s seminal “Leaning Duets” (1971) originally performed on Wooster Street in SoHo and recently reprised at the Whitney as part of “Off the Wall.” The electronic music composed by Echospace that accompanied Bokaer’s dancers was appropriately robotic and atmospheric, and only disharmonically hurt the ears occasionally, when it was supposed to. The set by Anthony Goicolea – a thin forest of bare trees whose trunks seemed wrapped in pewter foil, nocturnally ambient under Aaron Copp’s subdued, invisible lighting, and the minimalist costumes by Guillaume Boulez – white tunics, tan jodphurlike knickers, and calf-covering black tights, were stunning.

Magical realism, Ana Mendieta, pizzicato and manga with a Cuban accent.

Sánchez, one of Dance magazine’s “Twenty-five to Watch,” next presented “I Will Stay With You Even If You Are Not Here,” accompanied by two female dancers – the brilliant, ingenuish Hristoula Harakas, Sánchez’s perfect foil, and Jimena Paz. “Stay” (the maudlin, autobiographical title a mild distraction) began with visual artist Sun K. Kwak rending the white stage down the middle with multiple rips from a wide roll of black masking tape (a horizontal brushstroke of black paint ran across the back of the stage in a slightly different visual language, and at a perpendicular tangent, incongruent). Sánchez and Harakas entered, two too-easy-to-watch as they swung through a set of smooth, synchronic motions, Harakas an intentional half-step behind in eerie, shadowlike mimicry, given that to follow any move by the larger-than-life, superpresent Sánchez requires nothing short of psychic elasticity. It was not possible not to be fixated on the dancers’ flowing, écru-colored costumes with bright red accents (a red sleeve for Sánchez’s dress, red clinging pantaloons beneath Harakas’s shorter, gauzy one, and a red floral sash with light trousers for Paz), designed by Kentaro Ishihara and Aiko Mizutori. These reflected the narrative inspiration of “Stay”: the visual artist Ana Mendieta, Mendieta’s Santerian vocabulary – Shango, the red orisha (spirit), her sense of displacement from her homeland as recorded in her “Silueta” artworks, and her ambiguous, premature death. Paz’s upstage entry lent complexity and literal depth to “Stay,” but it was Adonis Gonzalez, pianist and composer, who stole the show with his haunting fingers and harping on the strings inside the grand piano’s case, recalling Henry Cowell’s must-know “Aeolian Harp,” Anton Webern’s “Piano Variations” and Claude Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.” “Stay” climaxed in lactic-striatic exhaustion, with the three dancers standing side by side, a trey in rag doll motion, as the piano descended to a rumbling base register.

Gutierrez’s “Puntos Suspensivos” (Suspended Points = Ellipsis) closed the evening with the largest company – six dancers. This piece was seamlessly accompanied by violinist Joanna Kaczorowska, violist David Kovac and cellist Elizabeth Means, playing music in a Latin mode by Gabriela Lena Frank. “Puntos,” a contemplation of the “Asian Influence in the Latino Diaspora,” started with an extended solo by Min-Tzu Li, featuring hair-swirling upper torso and head movements, accompanied by pizzicato strings – to evoke an Eastern atmosphere. The tight, shades-of-blue costumes transformed the dancers into modern Asian teenage characters in manga graphic novels. The piece ended like it began, with a single danseuse, Li again, winding down, leaving the audience hanging in suspense….

Wendy Perron, Chief Editor of Dance magazine, was interlocutor, interstitially discussing the creative process and choreographic nuances with Bokaer, Sánchez and Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director of Ballet Hispanico (Gutierrez on tour). Perron elicited the brilliant observation by Bokaer that “Filter’s” floating platform gave “the floor new [planar] options,” amplification on costume color in Sánchez’s “Stay” (skin), the helpful translation of puntos suspensivos, and the epiphany that Gutierrez’s musicians proved to be metaphoric dancers. Accepting this series’ inside baseball format, these revelations enriched appreciation of the evening’s virtuosities.

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