Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wild "Seas" at Wild Project

The annual Between the Seas Festival, directed by Aktina Stathaki, creates opportunities for performing artists from the Mediterranean region to show work as well as connect and collaborate with their counterparts in New York. Now in its third season, the festival runs through Sunday, July 28. On last evening's shared program at a little Lower East Side gallery and performance venue called Wild Project, two dark, intense dance productions made use of the tiny stage space to varying degrees of effectiveness.

D R T or possible other titles!--a world premiere by the Turkish artist Korhan Basarn for Brooklyn's Mari Meade Dance Collective-overcomes its awkward title as well as its copious program notes/manifesto/open letter through fervent performance. One sentence--set off from the rest and rendered in boldface--contains what might be a flash of specific intention: "#brokenangel will be there as an elegy to the ones we recently lost as a victim of violence." This likely alludes to Taksim Square, but audiences must still grapple with the enigma of the dance itself.

D R T opens in silence, with a ritualistic vision: four long-skirted women cupping votive candles close to their hearts, aligned in a row in front of four strapping men in bikini briefs, crouched low with the tops of their heads planted onto the floor. The women advance, carefully stepping off the stage's edge, coming to nestle between the viewers and the stage as they quietly watch the men shamble forward.

The men bear patches of white feathers on their shoulder blades. Streaks of fake blood crust at the base of these vestiges of wings. The men's propulsive movements are heavy, wrenching and torturous. They grapple, sometimes alone, with one another or with a wall. Meade's dancers seize this rough material with eagerness and competence. We might not fully comprehend what's going on here--something about the confinement of embodiment and imperfection, perhaps-- but we understand the dancers' commitment.

The notion of endless struggle gets upended, though, by a reversal of roles and a radical change in tone. The men watch from the edge, and the women regain the stage, the women's interactions leading to frequent catfights and audience amusement. Stranger still is the conclusion--the appearance of an additional wounded man--a dancer not listed in the program but, apparently, the choreographer. His long, spastic thrashings extend an already protracted piece.

Portugal's Pedro Goucha Gomes
(photo courtesy of the artist)

Amongst Millions
Photo by Flavia Zaganelli
By contrast, Pedro Goucha Gomes offers no lengthy manifesto, no compatriots to share the burden. And, in fact, he stands naked before his audience. At the beginning of his solo, he barely moves.

His US premiere work, Amongst Millions, does have strong social justice intent, clearly stated. A few lines of notes refer to Europe's crisis and "feelings of frustration, alienation and fear" among the people of his homeland, Portugal. The notes continue, "The stylized, polite, urban and civilized body is replaced by ...crude expressiveness." True enough, yet that description does not sufficiently convey the extraordinary achievement of this singular and challenging performance.

In everyday life, Gomes has the form, visage and bearing of a knight. He has danced with some of Europe's most notable ballet troupes. Yet the extreme physical tensions in this solo give him the appearance of a man writhing with starvation or suffering torture. His stretchy face grows gaunt. His head morphs into a skeleton's skull with an alternately desperate, manic or lewd grimace of gleaming, terrifying teeth. The soundtrack, starting in a barely perceptible rumble, might issue from inside this frightening head. At times, it blares in volume, complexity and force.

The work, though profoundly disturbing, exerts a hypnotic pull and must be experienced. Gomes performs again on the festival's Thursday performance at 9:30pm, in a program shared with Meade's troupe and Vanessa Tamburi/FLUSSO Dance Project.

For complete program, schedule and ticketing information for Between the Seas, click here.

Wild Project
195 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A and B), Manhattan

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