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Canción del Cuerpo

The UT-Colombian dance collaboration proved more about process than product

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., March 12, 2010

Arts Review

Canción del Cuerpo

B. Iden Payne Theatre

March 5

In some artistic endeavors, the result is a final product, somehow more than the sum of its parts, that stands alone as a work of art; in others, the gold is in the experience of creating.

In "The Rope: Tres Momentos," the culmination of a yearlong collaboration between the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance and El Colegio del Cuerpo, a contemporary dance company and school in Cartagena, Colombia, it was clear that the journey, not the product, was the important part. To create the piece, jointly choreographed by UT faculty member Lyn Wiltshire and ECDC Director Álvaro Restrepo, UT dancers and Colegio dancers participated in a cultural and artistic exchange. They experienced living in one another's cultures and rehearsing in one another's studios. They rehearsed the same contemporary dance movements together, overriding their different influences, styles, languages, body types, and purposes. This kind of widening of horizons and sharing of ideas is what college is all about, and kudos is due to the participating faculty for making it happen for these students.

However, the end product of that experience, "The Rope," was an ungainly, overstretched, underedited work. While two of its three movements used text from Jean Genet's The Tightrope Walker, the movement's connection to the text was thin. Most sadly, the final movement was an inexplicably long walking sequence followed by a series of solos in the style of amateur competitive dance (all the dancers get a minute to show off their "tricks" and display how emotive they can be). The choreography was bland and seemed often to forget the upper body entirely. The dancers did share a consistency of expression and intensity throughout the work, and a backdrop of stylized rays plus warm lighting effectively created a sun-kissed glow in the last movement (the gold body glitter wasn't really necessary). However, over the pulsing of a Philip Glass symphony that kept insisting we were watching something meaningful (punctuated with bits of David Bowie and Brian Eno), the creaking of the old seats in the theatre developed its own symphony as audience members shifted restlessly.

Thankfully, there were other works on this Dance Repertory Theatre program. The first, "ZoomInn," by Yacov Sharir, was a hip, clean jaunt of the current ideal – most exemplified by some contemporary Israeli dance – that dancers look like calm, composed, regular people in between light-speed movements that seem almost involuntary. It's fun because it gives the feeling that you're not in the theatre but on the street, witnessing something strange happen out of the blue to fellow pedestrians. The appearance of nonchalance, requiring the body to be constantly energized and liquid so that the dance simply blooms out of the nondance without force or affectation, is difficult to achieve, but once warmed up, dancer Mariclaire Gamble captured it best.

The three other pieces on the program fell somewhere in between: not as gratuitous as "The Rope" but not as interesting as "ZoomInn." "The Famished Road," a 2004 piece by Restrepo for five of his company members, takes its title and inspiration from the book by Ben Okri (in the creation of the original piece, dancers were asked to memorize three paragraphs of the book and use them to create movement sequences). In this theatrical work, four men manipulate a female victim, at times against a soundscape of utter dissonance, and move among wooden frames on a floor strewn with red rose petals. "My Shadow Is Crooked," a piece by UT faculty member Andrea Beckham, had several intriguing elements, including a moment of bagism and text of a poem by Anne Sexton, but the choreography didn't pull these pieces together.

A lighter work, "Three Tangos" by José Luis Bustamante was somewhat cute but unfortunately came at a time when the world really does not need another tango ballet. Tango is fantastic, but you know who does it best? Not ballet or contemporary dancers or even ballroom dancers but real people who go out to dance the tango and then go home and have sex afterward. I guess that makes tango a genre that outlines the final-product-vs.-experience question. It's both an artistic product and a means to an end.

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