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Compañía María Pagés and MéMé BaNjO - Compagnie Lionel Hoche

‘La Tirana,’ 'Flamenco Republic' and 'Rite of Spring,' 'Volubilis'

by S.E. Arnold

June 25 - 29, 2003 -- Ted Shawn Theater and Doris Duke Studio Theater at Jacob's Pillow, MA

Although the companies performing concurrently in the Ted Shawn and Doris Duke Theatres at Jacob's Pillow often differ dramatically in dance styles, a viewer can nevertheless count on a complementary relationship between them.

In the Ted Shawn Theatre, the Compañía María Pagés's hammering rain of feet, clapping hands, guitars streaming out scales and liquefied chords, and the melismatic howl of Flamenco's spiritual frenzy differed sharply from the Doris Duke Studio Theater, where MéMé BaNjO's muffled feet, interrupted motion, buoyant use of music, and harmonically astringent choreography also pondered the human condition. Save for two guitarists and one each percussion and vocalist, the two companies are roughly equal in size. Compañía María Pagés holds a roster of nine dancers to MéMé BaNjO's six. Additionally, for their Pillow appearances each company presented a program of two works. Moreover, each company began its evening with a narrative work, “La Tirana,” choreographed by María Pagés, artistic director of Compañía María Pagés, and the “Rite of Spring,” choreographed by Lionel Hoche, artistic director of MéMé BaNjO. And, each company ended its evening with quasi-narrative works, “Flamenco Republic,” choreographed by Pagés and “Volubilis,” choreographed by Hoche, that each manifest their company's general views on life and art.

If a bridge between “La Tirana,” in which three of Goya's works come alive, and Hoche's “Rite of Spring” is required, then the artistic values illustrated by the works of Goya provides it. In late 18th century Spain, for example, artists sought to reveal the inward life of the their human subjects through outward gesture -- an idea that harmonizes well with values traditional to Modern Dance and describes the very soul of Flamenco. In “La Tirana,” a ghostly image of Countess Alba (dressed in black), danced by Pages, moves voluptuously behind her portrait/scrim. Her second manifestation, however, the now substantial Countess, moves her whole body in what is clearly the argot of Flamenco, yet it is to an aria by Bellini.

In a realization of Goya's portrait of the Family of Charles IV, couples costumed in the Empire style articulate the lexicon of Flamenco to a minuet. In addition to revealing the intricate use of music in “La Tirana,” for example, its mix of live and recorded sound and its inclusion of other genres -- the adaptation of Flamenco's 'wild' rhythms onto the tame rhythms of Bellini and Schubert or "Singing in the Rain" -- was funny, like watching someone work on a metric-tooled machine with English measure wrenches. Although the premise of “La Tirana,” a male patron accidentally trapped in the Goya gallery of a museum, suggests a Pygmalion scenario, the sense of loss behind the gestures of Flamenco's howl and the communal yet very private aspects of its intense performance practices ban the sense of fulfillment the Pygmalion myth holds and in consequence keeps the dance relationship between the sexes formal, if not adversarial.

The colorless (orchestrally speaking), black and white sound of Stravinsky's two-piano score for “The Rite of Spring” complemented the dark, inverted Cathedral-like atmosphere brought to the performance space by the on stage lighting. The property of seven circular neon lights asymmetrically clustered and suspended to within a foot of floor on cables that disappeared into the rafters exploited the vaulted capacity of the Duke Theatre.

Further, given the suggestive yet un-alluring and colorless costumes the three female and two male dancers wear, the fact that the piece begins in silence, that there are moments when the music’s energy splashes ineffectively on still, knotted and heavily weighted sculptural poses, and instances of movement that seem painfully deaf to the music suggest that this “Rite of Spring” takes place in the realm of the Dead. That is, this is a “Rite of Spring” seen from Pluto's point of view.

And, as if to highlight this work's readable gestures, when Persephone -- the Chosen One -- silently enters the space at the opening moment, one knows that she knows what is about to happen to her. Other characters in this tale of eternal return include Hecate, Venus, and Thanatos. Although completely fictitious, the invented characters, for there are none named in the program, nevertheless serve as metaphorical descriptions of the power relationship each had to the other and to the Chosen One. The duets Hecate and Pluto each have with Persephone, for example, reveal their ambivalence toward her. Moreover, the costume each wears seems to support their fictional character. For example, the Venus character wears a white lacey Victoria's Secret-looking garment while the ready-for-action garment worn by the Thanatos character gives him a fit and youthful look. Additionally, as befits their regal status, the Hecate and Pluto characters wear finer looking black "hour of foolishness" bedtime ware flecked with shards of gold.

While neither flatness nor angularity could find comfort in this “Rite of Spring,” Hoche nevertheless makes movement references to the “Rites” of Paul Taylor and Nijinsky. Additionally, while the scenarios differ, the titles of the sections in the score often converge with the action of the choreography. A duet for Thanatos and Pluto, for example, begins on the Games of the Rival Towns music.   A green rectangle of light floods the floor on the Dance to the Earth music and the Sacrificial Dance is just that. Yet, when this Chosen One, as is her duty, collapses onto the blocks of primary colors that grid the floor one knows that she, following Persephone's yearly round, passes into the white light and thus brings renewal to the Earth.

Edited by Jeff.

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