If the Miami Made weekend is any indication, Miami is going through a Surrealist phase. The historical Surrealists embraced the transgressive and irrational. They flirted with ideas of death, the erotic, what Freud called “the uncanny,” and the images they created were not of the eye but of the mind. This is precisely where I found myself again and again during the Miami Made weekend, a showcase of new work by local artists co-produced by Miami Light Project and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. In almost every work, audiences were lead into one of the psyche’s many hidden corners to look at the refuse left there. There was a surprising amount of sex, violence and, thankfully, a little absurdity to lighten things up. It was an odd, exciting weekend and just about everyone in the local performing arts world was there at some point, either on stage or in the audience.
The structure of the event itself was a kind of musical chairs game where audiences would sit down, watch a short piece, and then leave the theater for 45 minutes as the stage was changed. Because the entire show was free, those not holding VIP passes were instructed to queue up before each piece began, so the exercise of entering and leaving the theater was intended to give everyone an equal chance at getting a seat. The side effect of this unusual structure was a cocktail party atmosphere in the Arsht Center lobby between shows, where opinions could be aired, the merits of the works could be debated, and often, the artists could be approached with questions. It was a practical solution to make the performances accessible but it added an appropriate, if sometimes inconvenient, air of unconventionality to the program.
For the most part, the Miami Made weekend explored territory between dance and theater. Of all the works, newcomer Pioneer Winter’s Phallussy was the closest to conventional dance. He assembled an impressive cast of performers with fantastic technique and his choreography gave them all a chance to shine. But underneath the athleticism of their movement was a mocking storyline about sexuality and sexual identity. From the beginning of Phallussy, it was clear that Pioneer Winter’s work was going to be funny, and brutal. Women were pushed on the floor by men. Women seduced and then humiliated men. Couples in courtly attire waltzed and then divided, and the men paired up as the women watched and ate bananas. And let’s not forget the masturbation scene. Winter must have worked closely with local artist Rosie Herrera at some point – his work had the same biting humor and snappy timing.
Local dancer and choreographer Ana Mendez explored the murky space of the afterlife with The Body is Present. Based on the life and unusual death of artist and Miami legend Ana Mendieta, The Body is Present was something of a séance. Mendieta was rumored to have been pushed off a balcony by lover and fellow artist Carl André and The Body is Present imagines her state of mind as she was falling. The work began with a hypnotic recorded voice and a red light, swinging like a pendulum as if to bring the audience into a state of trance. Mendez’s choreography, in general, is about stasis rather than change, and The Body is Present makes most sense when thought of as a moving image. Time did not progress in this work – it cycled in a formless loop. For the length of the performance, dancers walked slowly and limply like lost souls. They lay their bodies down on the floor, and on each other, in piles. This visual motif was repeated many times, making reference not only to dead bodies but also to Mendieta’s work, which centered on the body as an object. Throughout her career, she traced her silhouette on the earth with water, with fire, with dirt. Mendieta is also remembered for a performance, referencing Santeria, where she covered herself with sacrificial blood and feathers. The most striking image from The Body is Present envisions a triggered memory of this particular work. In the dreamlike blackness of the Arsht Center stage, feathers filled the air like snow.
One of the most gentle and unfathomable works in the program was Letty Bessart’s Requiem for a Mustard Seed Closes in Song, Act 1. In keeping with the aesthetic of the weekend, the stage was dark. The dancers were dressed in black and the visual space of the stage was minimal, defined only by a partial brick wall. The dancers’ movements were somber but sharp and repetitive, even obsessive. Some kind of story seemed to be unfolding at times, though it was impossible to quite define. The events that took place were strung together not necessarily by a narrative development, but simply by the fact that they were happening in sequence. Think of the famous Surrealist phrase: “The chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” And yes, there were umbrellas on stage, and funeral processions, and lovingly fondled cabbages.
Liony Garcia’s Clandestine was more of a cinematic horror-show. Clandestine began with a faceless blonde sitting in self-loathing posture, her small table the only point of light on the stage. A doppelganger lurked in the background. The shadow self then approached her and, with a dark soundtrack, the two selves in their white party dresses struggled in violent confrontation. One dragged the other into a living room set. The lights went up in the living room, and a sexy and disturbing orgy played out in dark tones. Lipstick was smeared, dresses were lifted, and a knife was flashed. In the shady atmosphere of Clandestine, it was unclear where we were, exactly, in the realm of the psyche. It may have been a fragment of exaggerated memory, fantasy, or fear.
The program was consistently psychological. There were a few wildcard exceptions, including Summer Hill Seven’s Hang Time por Ruben Stacy, which touched with grace and intelligence on matters of race, homelessness, and history. Otherwise, Miami Made was a weekend of private demons. It was remarkable how many times, over the course of the program, that underwear was exposed, a body was dragged across the floor, or one person threatened another. These were the images that lingered afterwards, leaving one to wonder why, exactly, so many local artists are working with issues of sexuality, violence and death.