Performing Arts: Dance
August 5, 2016
Presented by the American Dance Festival, Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre at the Joyce is a glimpse into Herrera’s unique repertoire. Two works were shown, the first being the New York Premiere of Carne Viva, a duet driven piece that feels like a work in progress. As the lights fade up at curtain, the male dancer lifts his female counterpart into the air then proceeds to hold her there for as long as he can. Time after time his strength runs out and he falls onto his knees until he is ready to go again, with each lift straining his lower back a little more. During this painful to watch cycle, a light and airy pop song plays giving the image some life, but not much meaning. Finally as the song ends the two dancers onstage begin to move fluidly together through lifts and circular patterns so complete silence. Interesting patterns are broken up by lengthy pauses, that seem to stop any momentum of the movement, which would eventually become the theme of the evening.

It is a relief when a third dancer enters the stage to break up the continuity. A fun continuous beat spurs the stage to new life as these two dancers proceed to what can only be called "dance fight." Pushing, reacting, connecting across the stage, it is exciting change from what has proceeded, however as the song continues in that same rhythmic pattern so do the two dancers. Though each image is intriguing in the way it hits, after a while it all starts looking the same. Silence once again follows as the two women stand facing each other in what feels like a power struggle. They walk towards and back away from each other continuing for an absurd amount of time until finally connect and the piece concludes. A strange end to a scattered piece.

With the second piece of the night, energy is high as the stage reveals an opening image of small vignettes, all with elaborate costumes and staging. Herrera’s 2009 work Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret promises life and delivers muddied vision. The strong images uptop include a pinata and a beautiful man in a bathtub. Each dancer does their own thing until suddenly the couple downstage left causes a commotion. While on a date, the man sprays the woman with the violent burst of water. She seems annoyed and rushes off stage only to return in a brand-new outfit. Movement once again fills the stage until, BAM, the hose hits again. This continues two more times with no variations in pacing, which is funny but like a lot of ideas to come the humor doesn't quite land. The stage fades to black and the piece continues one; the pinata and the bathtub man are never to be seen again…

Another example of comedic miss is in a section where three men are carrying a young female dancer around the stage, lowering her onto cakes that have been place onto stools, ten cakes in total, which is at least three cakes too many. Only cake three holds variation in timing, which make the whole section feel like an exploration of monotony. All this being said there are still a few really nice moments, like a section where she has all twelve dancers moving in unison or the section where a drag queen lip syncs to Celine Dion’s memorable “My Heart will Go On,” wind in hair. Tragically, many of the movement phrases that start to form into gripping sequences are cut short by Herrera’s love of the dramatic pause. Maybe the strangest part of the entire evening was the decision to end the work with a video, featuring the same dancers on stage plunging from a raft into the ocean depths. That being said, the video’s use of close up and boring cinematography (with the exception of the final gorgeous sequence) relies on the audience caring about these characters, even the ones that had almost no stage time. Unfortunately for the work, the characters were not strong enough to elicit emotional connections.

Blackouts served to transition between each section, perhaps because there felt like no unity or singular vision to organically lead from one section to the next. Ideas were clearly present throughout, but it was difficult to distinguish those ideas. It does seem clear that Herrera’s voice is something new, however her compositional language does not yet feel fully formed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Annie Woller

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