The press materials for Brian Brooks Moving Company called the young choreographer's work "colorful," which sounded good to me. It was not until I was wriggling in boredom that I remembered how my grandmother used to admire something's color when she couldn't think of anything else nice to say. While there is plenty more to say about BBMC's Piñata, which the company performed in Reynolds Theater on July 5 (the second of their two ADF appearances), not all of it is positive.
First, let me say that the production was very well thought out. The lighting design by Jeremy Morris Burke gave a sense of changing moods that supported the dance well. The costumes by Roxana Ramseur were great. And Tom Lopez' sound score, with his own music and that of Cesaria Evora, Scissor Sisters, Senor Coconut, Cyndi Lauper, and Maurice Ravel, was an intriguing mix. But somebody needed to edit the choreography.
Piñata, the sole offering on the program, is 70 minutes in length, which is at least 25 minutes longer than it could sustain my interest. Almost every section could have been pruned to good effect, and the final two sections might have been better left out. The penultimate seemed nothing more than a diversion, to allow the company time to change costumes, and while momentarily amusing, it did nothing to build on the dances that had come before. The final section, a slightly campy hand dance to Ravel's "Bolero," was completely at odds with the amazing athleticism of the first sections and seemed to drag on forever, squandering all the energy accrued earlier.
Which was considerable.... There is some cutesy little stuff at the beginning with an unseen announcer, but when one dancer blindfolds another and spins her around before she whacks opens a brightly colored piñata, and the five dancers appear as vaguely Commedia dell'arte figures, all in white, it seems the work will get over itself and really move. The early part of the piece all takes place on the floor. Even for dancers, these unusually beautiful bodies are capable of some amazing feats. They can even levitate, rising straight up into the air several inches from a fully prone position. The dancers keep us focused on their physicality by remaining distant emotionally from us and each other, their eyes gazing blankly into the distance. But it all goes on a little too long – even the astonishing solo by Brooks.
It is a relief when the dancers stand up for the later sections, which begin to feature bits of color in the costumes, echoing the colors of the piñata. The dancers also strew bits of paper toned to the colorway of the moment. There are some very nice visuals and some impressive movement sequences, but because there is no feeling involved and no dramatic-tension building, they extend beyond our ability to care about them.
The piece cycles through the several colors of the piñata, and the costumes become increasingly bright and interesting. Just when I thought we'd come to the end, the dancers all left the stage, to be replaced by a number of piñatas suspended and "danced" like marionettes at the rear of the stage. We were back to cute, and cute went on, once again, a little too long.
But cute was better than the "Bolero" finale, which was more like a failed drag queen act than anything else. I think it was meant to be campy, but just wasn't outrageous enough. All five dancers appear in black flamenco dresses and come to stand in an arc downstage. Stationary, eyes gazing into the distance, they move only their hands and arms, and eventually their torsos. It was not bad enough to be funny, and not nearly good enough to be enjoyable. It was as if they were half-heartedly lip-synching the dance – a no-no in live performance.