Yerba Buena Center
for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
March 5, 2009
Reviewed by Rita Felciano
Photo by Lillian Wu, courtesy YBCA. David Rousseve, an intriguing storyteller in his Saudade.
David Roussève is a poet, as well as a choreographer. And at this point in his life his imagination seems to more comfortably roam the world of verbal ideas than those of dance. His latest work, Saudade, impressed with the fine articulation of his philosopher/traveler character that tries to make sense of existence. In the end he learns that he will never be able to figure it out, because life and death, grief and joy, love and hate are so inextricably interwoven that one doesn’t exist without the other.
Roussève is an intriguing storyteller with a tall and lanky frame, a face chiseled by middle age and a vocal command that even an opera singer would envy. Fado music, which has been described as the Portuguese version of the blues, gave him the underpinning for this bittersweet exploration of memory and longing for something that cannot be. Saudade became a dance-theater piece that both mesmerized and exasperated.
With words, voice, and gesture Roussève calls up five haunting portraits from the African American experience, catching each character at a crucible in his or her life: the loner who falls in love with an alley cat, 9-year-old Sally whose sister pays the price for having taught her to read, the slave girl who is being raped, the man facing death alone in a hospital, the Katrina evacuee who looses more than she gains.
Weaving in and out of Roussève’s monologues is a collage of dance episodes, both delicate and manic, which further explore the contradictions that seem to plague our lives. Seven dancers, whose separate cultural traditions enhance but don’t determine their artistic identity, perform them beautifully. It’s one of Roussève’s great accomplishments that he has found a way to suggest commonality in difference.
But many of these imagistic dance sections pale against the inevitability and force of Roussève’s own performance as narrator. Despite the dancers’ impressive efforts, much of the material is too generic to resonate emotionally. Some of the dances—the screaming woman, the tickle/torture and yes/no episodes––look as if they might have come from early Pina Bausch. Others are just too predictable, like the loner left behind after the scooting game, the silencing of a joyous dancer. Where they do work—and some do—they deepen the dark woods through which Roussève’s memorializing takes him.