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LaGuardia Performing Arts Center
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Long Island City, NY
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BARE Dance Company's Venomous the picture of urban isolation

by Julia Day
November 16, 2014
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center
31-10 Thomson Ave.
Long Island City, NY 11101
(718) 482-7206
It started in a women's bathroom at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center — two figures dressed in black, their faces obscured, beckoning six of us in. We looked at them and they looked back at us as they moved about the space, pushing us into corners and up against mirrors. They studied us with an intense and predatory interest, and when the door opened and different figures appeared outside, we gladly followed their beckoning fingers. From there, everything descended further into madness.

We were prodded through this disorienting, carnal netherworld with gentle touches—the grasp of an arm, a hand at the small of a back—and while we were acknowledged, we were separate from those erotic vignettes. Voyeurs at best, intruders at worst, we continued along the labyrinth, trying to decipher the hand gestures of our guides. We blindly followed a man on a leash down a dark hall.

Those minutes felt like an hour, but by the time we reached the end of the maze, we left it reluctantly. The intensity of the opening moments of the November 16 performance of BARE Dance Company's Venomous was enticing, and its uncertainty became addicting. A lone dancer led us out onto the stage where our seats circled the dance floor. Compared to the barely contained chaos of the maze, her manner was rigid and austere—almost humorously so. She guided each of us in turn to a seat on the stage, passed out programs from a basket on a chair at center stage, and then returned to pacing primly and guarding the entrance. As other groups entered, she did the same: placing each audience member neatly in the seat of her choosing.

As we sat silently on stage, looking out at the empty house seats, a projection up on a wall caught the lone dancer's attention. She clapped her hands—the only discernable sound against a background of white noise—and it disappeared. Her strictly imposed order was only temporary, and the light came on again and again—this time with mocking shadow puppets, the next: a reflection of a face. Each time she clapped, the light went out, but it kept coming back, further wearing down her resilience with each occurrence.

I don't usually look at other audience members much, but the unusual set up of the stage made me study their faces—noticing who they'd come with, or if they'd come alone. We were close enough to see the reflective marking tape scattered across the floor. The lone dancer grabbed a program out of unsuspecting hands, and passed it to somebody else.

After what felt like many minutes, dancers flowed out into the house—scattered amongst the high backed bucket seats, staring at us, the audience, on stage. Their movements' animal, they prowled closer. At the first hint of music with a melody, synchronization began, and a storyline emerged.

Two lovers, the lone dancer from earlier and a boy in a blazer, are lost in a wasteland of the unfamiliar. Caught in a relationship neither wanted (yet neither could leave). They stayed, preferring the toxic to the unknown. Their movements' were fluid and jarring all at once, and I was left with the impression that every imperfection was intentional—every unsynchronized step had been scripted.

More dancers flowed on stage from every entrance, and with them they brought an overwhelming cacophony of movements. The lovers were lost in the fray, but just when we'd adjusted to this massive presence, we were left feeling hollow. An palpable emptiness came over us, and it took a moment to realize why: the dancers who'd swarmed the stage just moments before had flowed off, as inconspicuous as water down a glass window, leaving two dancers alone on stage, and an suffocating sense of abandonment. The presence we once resented was now sorely missed.

The only two left behind were the boy in the blazer, and another male dancer. They moved about the stage with intricately choreographed partner work. Again engaged in an unfulfilling relationship, but this time a cat-and-mouse game. The boy in the blazer was being toyed with: given just enough attention to hold his interest, but each time he was beginning to feel comfortable his sense of security was revoked by his partner's suddenly flippant attitude. More male dancers moved onto the stage, circling and stalking the pair, but not participating—scavengers on the fringes.

The themes of crushing congestion followed by aching isolation continued throughout the performance. Each time I was caught off guard, but instead of left feeling raw by the chafing of these two extremes, the final vignette soothed us:

The boy in the blazer, standing at center stage surrounded by a circle of sixteen other dancers, each attached to him by straps linked to a harness at his waist, pulled him gently in circles, supporting his weight. We left this fever dream in a haze, craving something, but unable to understand what we ached for.

Venomous was choreographed by artistic director Mike Esperanza in collaboratively with his seventeen dancers, Michael Abbatiello, Vincent Arzola, Jake Bone, Suki Clements, Larry Daniels, Jacqui DeFranca, KayleFarrish, Sarah Houseplan, Erin Love, Clinton Martin, Ashley Menestrina, Katrina Juliette Muffley, JaquelynNowicki, Devin Oshiro, Suzie Rzecznik, Britney Tokumoto, and Paul Vickers.

Esperanza, an award-winning choreographer, established BARE in 2005 in Southern California, and in 2012 BARE relocated to New York City. Venomous was the inaugural work produced for the CUNY Dance Initiative at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center. In 2015, BARE Dance Company will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka


BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka


BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka


BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka


BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka


BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka


BARE Dance Company's 'Venomous'

BARE Dance Company's "Venomous"

Photo © & courtesy of Ayaha Otsuka

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