November 17, 2011 I have a high tolerance for monotony. In this hyper-wired-sleep-deprived world, I welcome long stretches of sitting still, watching the same thing happen over and over. Which pretty much describes Replica, the collaborative performance piece staged by erstwhile Miami visual artist Daniel Arsham with choreographers Jonah Bokaer and Judith Sanchez Ruiz at the Adrienne Arsht Center last Friday (and at MOCA last Saturday). For just shy of an hour, dancers Bokaer and CC Chang gently rolled, leaned, and pushed against each other in the vicinity of a white cube designed by Arsham to break apart and, at one point, to come back together in a video of the cube projected on the side of the cube (a “replica,” get it?).
The “white cube” is standard shorthand for the sterile space of the art gallery, making the repeated gesture of breaking out of the cube on both stage and video a cute in-joke for the visual arts crowd. Here was a sculpture come to life.
Once the dancers broke out, though, they were stuck in the “black box,” standard shorthand for the empty space of the studio theater. Here were living creatures turned into statues, though not like those white-powdered buskers on Lincoln Road who stand on boxes, completely still. The dancers were always in motion, but Bokaer and Chang are so supremely accomplished that there was never a moment when the audience doubted their control. When Bokaer hovered on an extremely articulated tiptoe for what seemed like several minutes, he never teetered, never hinted at mere mortal fatigue. When Chang fell gracefully to the ground it was clear that she would just as quickly and gracefully rise again. Arsham reversed the usual relationship between set design and performance: the white cube and the black box shared the spotlight; the dancers were background.
Not everyone in the audience at the Arsht appreciated Replica’s essential stillness. At least 14 people fled the studio theater before the final bow, the first man bursting out of a center row before the 10-minute mark, trailing his embarrassed wife, daughter, and mother or mother-in-law sheepishly behind. Another couple, rushing out at what they could not know was nearly the end, finally broke open the black box as they practically ran into the dancers who had ventured for the moment to the edge of the stage. I imagined the fleeing audience members pausing in the lobby, pulling iPhones and Blackberries out of their pockets, escaping their boredom by fixing their eyes on a tiny screen and jabbing their fingers at the tiny keys. I think we have lost sight of what monotony is.
Miami Contemporary Dance Company
No one walked out of the Miami Contemporary Dance Company performance at the Colony last Friday. In fact, in true Miami fashion, audience members were still trickling in long after the curtain rose on a bride mourning beside a corpse in The Death of Federico Garcia Lorca. I had not seen this piece before, and it quickly became my favorite in artistic director and choreographer Ray Sullivan’s repertory so far. The poet Garcia Lorca’s passionate life and tragic death make for gripping drama and his verses, as MCDC demonstrated with a gasping recitation of “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejia,” make for a stunning accompaniment to dance.
The main attraction of the night, however, was the world premiere of Sullivan’s latest work, Harvest Voice. Inspired by interviews with women migrant farm workers in Homestead, this lyrical dance is set against a video backdrop of grass and brush animated occasionally by elements such as a tractor tire rolling by and a fluttering butterfly. The set played a starring role in this piece as well, with the dancers dragging about six wooden boxes filled with soil and climbing in and out now and again. In one of my favorite moments, a male dancer bathed one of the women in dirt.
Unlike The Death of Federico Garcia Lorca, which fused flamenco with MCDC’s contemporary vocabulary, this piece did not incorporate a movement drawn either from the Mexican regional dances that dominate the Homestead camps or from the reach and bend of farm work itself. Instead, arched backs, falls, and full extensions represented what Sullivan gleaned from the dream life of his subjects in the abstract. Nor were any of the words of the farm workers recited in the manner so effective with Garcia Lorca’s verse. Harvest Voice is a lovely piece, but after the curtain fell, the secret dreams of women in the fields remained a secret to me.
Miami Contemporary Dance Company performs The Death of Federico Garcia Lorca and Harvest Voice at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, November 19 and Saturday, November 20 at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $20 – $35. Call 305-865-6232 or visit miamicontemporarydance.net.