April 21, 2006

Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre and Cynthia Oliver’s COCo Dance Theater

Aaron Davis Hall, NYC

April 21–30, 2006

Reviewed by Emily Macel


Uneasy, unsettling, and out of control, Cynthia Oliver’s work nevertheless has a narrative cohesion that makes for effective dance theater. The E-Stablished Choreographers program was a perfect forum for Oliver’s work. (The E-Moves series, in its seventh year, is a showcase for both young and reputable black and Hispanic artists.) However, the power of her dancers’ storytelling energy proved an unintentional contrast with the mixed bill’s other choreographer, Arthur Aviles.


Like a wind-up toy that never slowed down, Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre performed eight dances with an unyieldingly high energy level. Yet Aviles, a former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dancer who established the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, dominated his new works (performed to the Latin music of Tito Puente or Celia Cruz), while his dancers blended into the background.


In Swift Flow Warmup, Aviles talked the audience through his style of “swift flow.” His snakelike, fluid movements, starting with arms, made an interesting warm-up but didn’t develop momentum. Subsequent dances drew on the choreographer’s life. Interviews with family members and montages of snapshots flashed by on three distracting video screens and overshadowed the dancing. Aside from Aviles’ mid-concert solo—an acrobatic, humorous approach to his own evolution, performed nude—the dances blended into one another, distinguished only by costume changes.


The Caribbean-influenced COCo Dance Theater used similar theatrical elements—dance, monologues, sound, and music—to very different effect in Oliver’s Closer Than Skin. Though portions of the piece were excerpted from evening-length pieces, they worked together as a powerful display of a woman’s struggle with her place in society. Oliver’s solo, “Trembling,” began as she wrapped her fingers over her cheek and mouth, like she was being taken hostage. She lashed her head in a fast, whipping motion. Recorded, warped voices filled the stage and shoved at Oliver until she could barely catch herself. At times her entire body trembled, as controlled as the flutter of a wing. The delirious dancing culminated in a trio, the dancers braiding together individual motifs. Props like dolls and small empty boxes added a childlike, mysterious quality to the work. See www.aarondavishall.org.