The exciting Argentine dance theater group Krapp kicked off the American Dance Festival’s Argentine Festival in Reynolds Theater with their new work, “Olympica.” The performance on July 5th, the first of three, was its U.S. premiere. Judging from the anticipatory buzz among the audience before curtain, I was not the only viewer thrilled that the group had at last returned after their fantastic 2004 performance here. While “Olympica” is not quite at the same level of divine madness and existential absurdity as the earlier “Mendiolaza,” it does not fall far short.
If anything, the five dancers are even more amazing in this skit, where they imitate Olympic athletes — some successful, some whose glory days have passed, those who have “stage fright” at the starting line, and those whose dreams are far bigger than their talents. Although the dancers morph from divers to swimmers to runners to horses in these rapidly shifting scenes, they could just as easily be actors, singers, painters, poets or dancers. “Olympica” is not about athletes or sports so much as about skill and the will to take it to the limit, and the corollary willingness to take the falls along the way.
Since this is Krapp, the limit is a long way past the edge of town, out where the world drops off and the spirits of Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Gilda Radner and Inspector Clouseau roam free. Krapp is serious, but seriously funny — have you ever seen an upright piano stalk its intended audience? Every minute is crammed with sight gags. But hilarity is tempered with sorrow; hope with bitter knowledge of failure. There is less dancing here than dancerly movement, but the movement is so exhilarating, you don’t really care.
Krapp has the scope to carry out such theatrics. Not only are the various members trained as dancers and choreographers, they are well-versed in the mechanics of dramatic presentation, and they are musicians and visual artists. They know a great deal about timing, comedic and otherwise. With their emotional bungee-jumping between pain and delight, they seem to have devised a unique style in response to a life that has taught them many contradictory things. The final scene of “Olympica” sums it up. Endurance takes the day: the winner is the one who keeps on keeping on.
The evening’s second program (a separate ticket, show begins at 9:30) had even less dancing, and little of anything to recommend it. Compañia Contenido Bruto performed their “Kevental,” an hour-long work that was about 45 minutes too long. It is one of those things that is designed already broken. It moves in fits and starts, interrupts itself, fractures and scatters ideas and thereby the viewer’s attention. The lighting is low, so you can’t see much about the dancers. You can tell that if they would, they could dance well — but the few seconds of dancing they give between interruptions quickly become more of a torture than a tease. There is recorded voice-over, in heavily accented English. While trying to understand it, you flick your eyes to the super-titles, but they are out of synch with the sound. There are no images or actions that make up for being jerked around like this. The crowning insult to the audience was a bank of extremely bright lights at the back of the stage that flashed on and blinded the viewers — just when the dancers finally began to dance. The lights go off, only to cycle on and off again repeatedly. If this work has an actual theme, perhaps it is “bite the hand that feeds you.