Monday, March 25, 2019

"Dicotomia Del Silencio"

Photo Ryan Kwok

Rogelio López & Dancers
Dicotomia Del Silencio
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
March 23rd, 2019

Costuming is definitely something that I am pulled to in dance performance, though I don’t often give too much thought to the specific materials involved. But watching Dicotomia Del Silencio, the newest full-length work from Rogelio López & Dancers, I was haunted by the black brocade fabric used for the pants and sleeveless tunics. It was layered, weighty and significant, and as the night went on, would prove to be an ideal mirror for the quintet’s heavy narrative threads.

Silencio was a dance of heady, raw themes, which were unpacked through a mosaic of scenes and vignettes. And at the center of them all was the oft painful and lengthy journey of personal processing. As Andrew Merrell, Alexandria Whaley, Kevin Gaytan, Rebecca Johnson and López moved from chapter to chapter, several penetrating lines of inquiry emerged. How does care, attention and the passage of time affect past experiences? How do we try and help each other through challenging discoveries? With those overtures, are we actually providing comfort or just trying to make ourselves feel better? Are we allowing each other the freedom and time to truly process grief and trauma? When is it the right moment to reach out and when is it time to let go?

Aptly, the idea of embrace factored heavily into Silencio’s choreography. Traditional hugs abounded as did more abstract musings on the motif. Dancers would wrap around each other’s legs and gently cradle another’s head in the palm of their hand. In contrast, there were several solo statements counterpointing this sense of togetherness. Dancers backed away from the group; legs swam through the air, like they were treading water; López unhurriedly traversed the outside perimeter of the Shawl-Anderson studio space. The message: sometimes trudging through emotions and events is benefitted by the presence of others, and sometimes it isn’t. Much of Silencio’s phrase material was slow, methodical and ritualized, which matched well with its focus on processing and healing. But there was also plenty of intense, high-throttle movement: energetic rebounding, precarious cantilevered balances, bodies collapsing onto the floor. In these instants, pain, desperation, anger and disbelief washed over the room.

Photo Ryan Kwok
An integral trope in Silencio was the use of hand-held LED lights, which illuminated each dance episode, primarily from above. This lighting design (also by López) had a very powerful and intriguing dual effect. On one hand, it intimately emphasized all of emotional work that was playing out on stage. At the same time, because the handheld lights were utilized throughout the hour-long work, they had an anesthetizing quality as well, which fit like a hidden narrative fiber. Navigating extreme seasons and remembering unimaginable circumstances often requires a little anesthetic. Framing Silencio was a score composed and performed by David Franklin. Chimes, gongs, guitar, piano, even keys affixed to a long, wooden board contributed musical melodies and sound effects. While the music felt like a good fit for the piece, I did wonder if maybe the overall volume could have been adjusted. At times, the music was too loud for the studio venue and ended up pulling focus from what was happening onstage.  

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