All the World's a Dance

The genre of dance theater is taking over local stages

The forms of entertainment competing with live theater seem to grow every year, from IMAXes to e-books to women's basketball. And now there's even a new form on stage. "The spirit of creation is the spirit of contradiction," wrote Jean Cocteau, and South Florida, being the capital of contradiction and fertile ground for anything that could use a hyphen, is producing some intriguing dance theater. Some might scoff -- is this just another excuse for Belkys Nerey and her crew to scarf down all the grub at some new chichi South Beach event? No, says Jorge Guerra, dean of theater at the New World School of the Arts: "Dance theater has developed as a very specific genre. It is neither dance nor theater, as those disciplines are understood traditionally. It's a form that explores different ways of telling stories -- that's the theater part of it; notions of character, action, and circumstance are incorporated into the world of dance, which is a world free of realistic attachments." After all, what phenomenon is not derived from the inventive mixing of genres? Look at Broadway and rock 'n' roll. Take Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, for chrissakes.

Like many artistic innovations in the United States, dance theater is not really innovative -- they've been doing it in Asia for 1000 years, in Europe for more than 100 years, and in Latin America for 50. German dance-theater pioneer Pina Bausch's late 1970's work Rite of Spring was groundbreaking and has influenced choreographers on an international level. The Germans even have a word for the hybrid artist -- a Darsteller is a performer who could be an actor with impressive movement skills or a dancer with strong interpretive skills. In the United States, popular companies like Alvin Ailey could certainly be considered dance theater, as well as more experimental artists like Meredith Monk.

By appropriating many art forms and adhering to none, dance theater casts a wide net, and as Susan Caraballo, executive director of Artemis Performing Network, points out, "Art in general is taking a multidisciplinarian approach, and dance theater is a natural result of that. Many people shy away from theater thinking it's too lofty and intellectual. Dance can also leave you saying, "That was beautiful, but what did it mean?' Dance theater has enough of both elements to hold the audience's interest, and it's a chance to see something truly original." So for those who have grown weary of counting the ribs on emaciated dancers or deciphering long-winded soliloquies, there may be an alternative to TV. The stage still has something that technology can't replicate -- real flesh, a pulse, human energy. Dance theater capitalizes on this and has begun to flourish in South Florida. For the past two years, a dance-theater piece has been the bridge between the ending of the International Hispanic Theatre Festival and the beginning of the Florida Dance Festival.

Are you experienced? Helena Thevenot of Blu wants you to be
Are you experienced? Helena Thevenot of Blu wants you to be
Created by Giovanni Luquini. To be performed by Akropolis. September 7 and 8, 8 p.m.

Created by Helena Thevenot. To be performed by Artemis Performance Network and Blu. September 22 and 23, 8 p.m.

Both performances will take place at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Call 305-445-5300 or 305-674-1040.

This year Primeiro Ato, a Brazilian-based group, performed to a full house at the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. In a series of vignettes, the dancers dramatized certain situations through movement as much as dance. In one memorable scene, three women inhaled and exhaled deeply, contracting and expanding their stomach muscles and transforming their bodies into organic, almost amphibious organisms. In another scene dancers performed a frenzied and at times gawky samba, not to illustrate technical precision but to parody what audiences expect from Brazilian dancers.

In September two South Florida­based dance-theater companies, Akropolis and Blu, will also perform at the Colony.

The Akropolis studio, off Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami, is a cavernous garage space painted shamrock green. With chairs placed in a row facing the rehearsal space, it's reminiscent of a drive-in movie. For artistic director Giovanni Luquini, aesthetically speaking, that's not far off. "I am fascinated by the cinema," explains Luquini. "Not the special effects and explosions," he says as he waves his hands wildly, making spontaneous-combustion sound effects. "What fascinates me about cinema is the possibility to change the mood very quickly. This is something I strive for in my work." The dancers stand off to the side mimicking with their hands what their feet should do in the next scene. Others look on as rap and folk artist Mahogany, skateboard in hand, moves fluidly through a solo. Dressed in baggy pants and a T-shirt, Mahogany's controlled aggression and slippery movements have a very urban feel. Although never actually skating, the movement is continuous like the wheels of a skateboard, giving the viewer a roller coaster experience. Although Luquini and other cast members are trained dancers, other performers come from musical and theatrical backgrounds, as do Mahogany and Jennylin Duany, a trained actress whose regal narration and voluptuous shape added an incantatory presence in the company's 1999 production of Wrong Clue.

Usurping the power of creation from the writer, dance theater's strength relies on sound, situation, and movement more than text, meaning, and dialogue. "Giovanni tries to bring more gestures to the stage -- not so that it imitates real life, but it allows you to focus more on the character than the movement. So the observations that come from a dance-theater performance may not be about how high an arabesque is but rather the poignancy of a particular moment," explains co-director Elizabeth Doud. Doud has written the text for a love letter that will be read in Akropolis' upcoming production of Flagrante Delicto, the second piece in an urban-based dance-theater trilogy. The first piece was Wrong Clue, which exposed audience members to street life from a shifting perspective. Flagrante Delicto penetrates the asphalt and scaffolding, pulling the audience inside random spaces and the lives of their inhabitants.

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