Take a journey into the eerie world of the insects, or sail away on a storm-tossed ship. Perhaps you’d rather witness three gangsters enact a martial arts battle over the mysterious contents of a suitcase?
Festival Al-Bustan bore witness to these unusual scenes and more Sunday evening during “Luminous Passages,” a series of short dance works by Mexican dance troupe Delfos Danza Contempor?nea. It was the first of a number of shows the troupe performed at Al-Bustan, which this year brings a taste of South America to wintry Lebanon.
The performance consisted of six widely varied contemporary dance pieces, set to music by composers as diverse as Antonio Vivaldi, Meredith Monk, Mario Lavista, Steve Reich and Maurice Ravel. The range of music and performance styles ensured that there was something for everyone in the evening’s escapades.
The first number set a high standard for the rest of the evening, beginning with seven of the group’s nine dancers milling about the stage with a deceptive aimlessness and apparent lack of grace, their baggy clothes and sullen faces giving them the look of a group of bored teenagers.
With countertenor Andreas Scholl’s rendering of Vivaldi’s “Nisi Dominus” projecting baroque rigor through the auditorium, you might expect the choreography would be equally formalized. Yet when the performers began to dance – in a series of overlapping, spontaneous, apparently unstructured solos and duets – it created an engaging contrast between the order of the music and chaotic fluidity of the movement.
Opening the performance with her graceful, athletic solo was Suras? Lavelle, twirling like a dervish amid a whirlwind of hair. Her poise and grace in these opening minutes set her apart from her accomplished peers, marking her as the star of the ensemble.
This twirling, swooping clash of informality with formalism left the audience with high expectations for the rest of the performance.
While not all the pieces maintained this exacting standard, the audience’s appetite was more than satisfied after the interval by the atmospheric “Night Reflections,” a four-woman ensemble work with music by Mexican composer Mario Lavista.
With its screechy violins and vaguely ominous undertones, Lavista’s dissonant composition combined with dimly lit stage and vaguely post-apocalyptic costuming to create an otherworldly feel – like glimpsing the minutiae of a world where crustaceans have inherited the earth.
The four dancers, arrayed in translucent skirts of dark netting and scanty cavewoman tops, scuttled in short sprints across the stage, evoking the jerky urgency of crabs or insects, their bare limbs luminous against the dark stage.
A dozen or so small (ignited) flashlights scattered across the stage were used to great effect in the gloom, as the women passed them from hand to hand, gripping them between their thighs or in their mouths as if to represent the shifting of glowing eyes, or perhaps precious larvae, swimming across the dim stage.
Holding a light in each hand the dancers accentuated their insect-like appearance, snapping them together occasionally like mandibles – a surreal mimicry of the flamenco dancer’s castanets. A second set of warm, yellow lights, laid in a circle stage-right, gave the impression of a nest, accentuating the women’s becoming crustaceans.
In one particularly effective piece of choreography, by the talented Claudia Lavista (co-director, dancer and daughter of the composer), two of the women came together fleetingly, one perched on the other’s back, to form an angular eight-limbed creature, like a giant spider dancing eerily on its two hind legs.
Though the male dancers’ individual athleticism and grace was undeniable, the three all-male numbers were perhaps slightly less inspired. Audiences may have found the premise of these numbers somehow less original than that of “Night Reflections,” the subtle highpoint of the evening.
The performance returned to the classical canon for the final number. With Maurice Ravel’s unmistakable “Bolero” undulating accompaniment, all nine dancers marched purposefully on stage wrapped in black greatcoats with striped lining.
Choreographers Lavista and Victor Manual Ruiz upheld Ravel’s Spanish theme by an imaginative deployment of these props – having the dancers twirl them like wings, or a matador’s cape, throw them to each other to create aerial patterns, and slap them simultaneously, and concussively, against the stage. It was a performance as fit for the big top as the Emile Bustani Auditorium’s intimate stage.
This climactic performance was the evening’s only piece of sustained ensemble-work, and it made a wonderful finale. Once again in the final few frantic minutes, as the thumping undulating tune reached its fever pitch, Lavelle’s poise shone. As all nine dancers worked in this energetic ensemble, a sort of exhausting catharsis emerged from just watching them.