The Joyce Theater, NYC
September 29–October 4, 2009
Reviewed by Christopher Atamian
POPOPERA. Courtesy Mapp International.
Purgatory for choreographer Emio Greco apparently involves three half-clothed elfin men; exotic women in shiny, gauzy outfits; and copious amounts of loud electric guitar music. [purgatorio]POPOPERA is the second piece in a triptych choreographed by Greco and Pieter Scholten that follows the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s not an altogether successful undertaking, but it’s exciting and novel nonetheless: 75 minutes of ferocious, passionate dance peppered with moments of reflection and odd beauty.
The performance begins with a comic take on “I Got Life” from the musical Hair, followed by a series of pieces danced solo, in groups, and with electric guitars. The dancers slash the air with their arms, flail, wobble, shimmy, and stretch skywards with cupped hands. At some points they exert themselves so intensely that one can practically see the tensile pull between their muscles. Near the middle of [purgatorio]POPOPERA, after performing a dizzying series of circular fouettés, dancer Vincent Colomes finally breaks down. He stops in a spotlight, where he is joined by the lithe Victor Callens, limbs shaking as they both slowly slide to the floor in a split. One intuits that the dancers’ bodies are in a state of constant becoming, transforming, and purifying themselves, awaiting redemption as a soul might do—one can only assume—in purgatory.
At times the performance slows almost to a halt or relies too heavily on mezzo soprano Michaela Reiner’s fine English and German vocalizations. [purgatorio]POPOPERA is most effective when the dancers show off Greco’s unique movement vocabulary. In fact their physical appearance is wonderfully eccentric: although only seven strong, they look like a troupe of lost bohemian children or punk rockers of all shapes and sizes. Though all are accomplished dancers, Colomes, Callens, and Suzan Tunca stood out on the night I attended. [purgatorio]POPOPERA also succeeds in morphing music and dance, dance and pop culture, as the performers don their sleek black electric guitars. They merge with their instruments, and their instruments with flesh.
The dancers’ angst-ridden countenances and the atmosphere of palpable suffering give a plausible rendition of Dantesque purgatory, as does Michael Gordon’s plaintive, repetitive score. Still, the viewer is left with some questions. The seven deadly sins, for example, appear on a moon-shaped screen on the upper right-hand corner of the stage, each corresponding to a different day of the week: Wednesday—sloth; Friday—envy; and so on. Yet nothing in the choreography distinguishes one sin from another. And while it might make this abstract presentation of Dante too linear, one would have liked some clues as to who our friends in purgatory were or why they ended up there.
At one point Reiner croons a Pixies song in her sexy cabaret voice: In Heaven/Everything is fine/You’ve got your good thing/And I’ve got mine. Indeed, we await Greco’s upcoming take on Paradiso. In his quirky and able hands, it’s bound to be thought-provoking.