Monday, May 5, 2014

Buffard and Limon—Disparate Points on the Spectrum

Baron Samedi. Photo: Ian Douglas
The late Alain Buffard's Baron Samedi, at New York Live Arts, feels like a heightened dramatic event from the outset. In the dark, Hlengiwe Lushaba sings Kurt Weill's "Trouble Man" as the light slowly comes up, revealing Nadia Lauro's breathtaking set—an undulating white square that slopes downward toward the audience. Its six inhabitants, plus two musicians on the side, are illuminated by the ethereal lighting by Yves Godin, riding it like a magic carpet for the work's riveting one hour duration.

Described as a "choreographed opera," it is structured by Weill's songs and text, although dismayingly, the composer is not credited anywhere in the program (his name is in the press release). The members of the cast are all multi-talented dancers, actors, and singers from a number of different nations; their nationalities and backgrounds feed into the plot, which revolves around the title character. This voodoo figure is portrayed commandingly by David Thompson, whose level of command slips from emcee to slave master. There is no dance, per se, but sections of physical theater connected by songs, including "Mack the Knife" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." The set makes for the possibility of a "king of the hill" scenario—the upper level the seat of power—and the slope allows the performers to slide toward us like children sledding. This collaborative mashup, in the hands of supremely talented artists, works. 

Baron Samedi. Photo: Ian Douglas
On the other end of the dance-theater spectrum, the Limon Company had a run at the Joyce Theater. Sean Curran choreographed a new work, Nocturne for Ancestors, a playful, somewhat confusing pastiche of ethnic styles with commissioned music by Lucia Caruso and Pedro H. da Silva. The costumes, by Amanda Shafran, felt largely Indian, but the shape of some of the womens' resembled dirndls. Movements and gestures quoted Indian dance, but also Irish step and tango. The finale, in which the dancers formed a wheel and broke into small groups and pairs, exuded the joy of a square dance at its most exuberant.

Psalms. Photo: Douglas Cody
Roxane d'Orleans Juste celebrated 30 years with the company with a solo by Dianne McIntyre, She Who Carries the Sky. It's a big occasion celebrated by a dance with a big title, and d'Orleans Juste—a shaman-like figure—made the most of the gesture-laden work, re-tying her scarf in various ways, like wearing various hats, dashing across the stage again and again. Ultimately, this elegy ran far too long on a stuffed program.

Limon's two dances grounded the program, Mazurkas (1958) and the stunning Psalm (1967), with commissioned music by Jon Magnussen, which was remounted in 2002. His choreography remains relevant due in part to its pure, simple expression of the human form—exaltation in an open sternum and up-curved arms, humility in deeply planted pliés and the use of gravity as a powerful force, humanity in plainly held hands with spread fingers. There's a lack of affectation which allows the company's appealing dancers (led by Dante Puleio) to connect with us directly, time and again.

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