ALL A-TWIRL: Vasquez and Zarling in Berenger’s Body.
As Tim Rubel, artistic director of the Theatre Expansion, explained a few years ago, his company is “devoted to bridging the gap between theater, dance, and other art forms . . . because I came into the dance world through theater.” Thus, the piece that anchors the fifth “Dancestravaganza” (at Perishable Theatre September 12 and 13), is Rubel’s Berenger’s Body, featuring dancers Leslie Vazquez and Katie Zarling, along with Rubel.
Presented in three sections that are separated by other pieces, Berenger’s Body reflects Rubel’s fascination with Eugene Ionesco and, specifically, the play Rhinoceros. In it, a man named Berenger is the only one who resists becoming a rhinoceros, and in the third part of Rubel’s piece, we see three dancers in suits and ties, literally clawing their way to the top of the heap, with the Berenger character trying to overcome the urge to join them.
The first section introduces us to two female dancers, as one enters the stage turning, kicking, and reaching out, while emitting variations of laughter. The second comes on, also laughing, and it’s quickly apparent that her chuckles are intended to fall into step with those of her companion. The two soon square off, however, like wrestlers in a ring, scuffing their feet in animal anticipation, lashing out with fingers curled into paws, and even forming two-fingered horns atop their noses.
In the second section, the rhinoceroses return, this time with suit jackets over their dresses and a half-hearted attempt at a tie. The two dancers show us an intricate relationship between a demanding mentor and a conflicted but eager-to-please underling. A striking portion of this dance is when the two chase each other behind the audience, screaming the entire way. Once they have completed the sequence, they go back to the beginning and repeat it, speeded up and set to music by Philip Glass.
Berenger’s Body has the potential of a thought-provoking dance, and it has some strong acting. But there are technical difficulties with the dancing and the production that must be addressed, since they distract from the overall intent. In addition, its full impact cannot be measured until it is presented as an organic whole instead of as three distinct pieces.
Weaving among those sections are two solos, a trio, and a quartet. The first solo, created and performed by Rosemary Candelario, is Descent, a reference to the oft-used “descent into madness.” A woman steps out in a ragged and wispy white shift, almost mythological in its drapings. Indeed, a strange train of fabric follows her on the ground and later surrounds her when she huddles on the floor (costume by Nicholas Hirata). Her hair is teased into a finger-in-the-socket look; her eyes are glazed; her face, arms, and legs powdered white. Slowly, she drops white beans in a path and then she drops herself, falling into an epileptic-like seizure, only to emerge and walk downstage, as she lets the garment drip from her arms. By turns a disturbing and distressing piece, but also a haunting one.
Another solo, by Alice Hunter, also captures the audience with her costume: a large, bird-like beak that she can pull down to cover her face, attached to a long feathered (or scaled?) segment running down her back. Titled simply Solo for one and set to Handel, it was skillfully executed but needed more emotional urgency.