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Dance Celebration's 25th Anniversary Season off to a Stunning Start

by Merilyn Jackson
October 27, 2006
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215 898 3900
Tania Perez-Salas Compania de Danza's first Philadelphia appearance deserves many happy returns. Opening for two nights at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts October 25, they were the second presentation in Dance Celebration's spectacular fall kickoff to its 25th Anniversary season. Dubbed "Dance Around the World," the season began last week with Dance Celebration regular, The Paul Taylor Dance Company. It continues next week with Japan's stellar Butoh-group Sankai Juku â€" fresh from the Brooklyn Academy of Music — in its first Philadelphia appearance in ten years.

Philadelphia is just one stop on a U.S. tour for Perez-Salas' Mexico City-based company which has much in common with other companies from around the world. Its aerial rope-work recalled Australia's Merle Tankard in Furioso which toured nationally a few years ago. Its water element was reminiscent of Germany's Pina Bausch who's covered her stages in everything from carnations to mud. Its use of props was Momix-like and its final moments reminded me of Seattle's Pat Graney and her work, Tattoo.

Perez-Salas' ten-members, pulled from Mexico, Japan and the U.S, aptly handle all these stylistic elements, as well as her strong leaning toward cinematic stagecraft and her literary influences. Works by Michael Cunningham (The Hours), Octavio Paz, and Ivan Illich loosely inform her concepts.

Though all train in ballet and contemporary dance, the men's muscled backs and abs make them look less ballet dancer, more gymnast. In The Hours, two of them backbend on all fours with torsos rigid as coffee tables as the women skim along them. This dance has the best and most novelistic choreography, in the sense that it was episodic. The episodes, though made up of arresting images, were too fleeting to feel the flow of a story line. Perez-Salas appears as a woman trapped in a boned and laced bodice and yards of hooped skirting, which reveal, when she exits, three women equally bound to each other by their skirting.

They struggle comically to go separate ways and cannot. They arrive back on stage without the skirts, expressing a different mood, hunching shoulders and crooking elbows, knees and ankles, especially when the men lift them.

The first work on the program, it opens with two women maneuvering a large wheel. Softly lit from inside it makes their bodies appear to be in a slow motion freefall. Though this was a mysterious opening image and the one that brought Momix to mind, I'd have preferred it in the next dance made a year earlier.

The amniotic float was more suggestive of the Paz-influenced work, Anabiosis — the restoration of life from a death-like condition.

The lighting, by Raphael Mendoza in this and all three works, was a little busy and often bathed the dancers' limbs in pallor, but was especially effective in the small-frame tableaux of one or two nude or semi-nude bodies.

Most people came eager to see the finale with its 500 gallon water pond, Waters of Forgetfulness. Two women rise dripping from it as if from a prehistoric muck to move like narcissistic high priestesses on the hunt for admirers. Three men squat primitively through the shallow water as if frog-hunting. Choreographically here it's a bit muddy. But as Arvo Pärt's Cantus begins so does an ecstatic double pas de deux. Cantus, Pärt's elegy for Benjamin Britten, is one of the most exquisite compositions of 20th Century music. Lasting less than seven minutes, it gave these couples time to slowly melt into one another, to shadow each other's movements and lifts. Some of the jarring imagery from the early section of the dance washed away. As sand drifted down in sheets from the fly space, the four transition from water to land, becoming less aquatic, more solidly human.

Next stops on their tour include Fairfax, VA, Austin, TX, Houston, TX, and San Francisco, CA.

Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street
Phila., PA
215 898 3900
www.pennpresents.org
Tania Perez-Salas in THE WATERS OF FORGETFULNESS

Tania Perez-Salas in THE WATERS OF FORGETFULNESS

Photo © & courtesy of The Annenberg Center


Tania Perez-Salas in THE HOURS

Tania Perez-Salas in THE HOURS

Photo © & courtesy of The Annenberg Center

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