Next Wave Festival
BAM Harvey Theater, NYC
November 17–21, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Wally Cardona in
Really Real. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy BAM.
In Really Real, an ambitious collaboration with composer Phil Kline, Wally Cardona intends to explore a spectrum of human experience and relationships. The massive work—launched at New Haven’s 2009 International Festival of Arts and Ideas—alludes, in part, to the sorrows of Kierkegaard, whose writings inspired Kline’s lyrics. But Really Real most convincingly represents architectural, not interpersonal, relationship—the body encountering space sculpted by light and voice.
At BAM’s Harvey Theater, the faux-unfinished interior appears to be mirrored by movement bearing a similarly ragged, vulnerable surface in which relationships tend not to gel. Men, though quite impulsive, are prone to collapse. Women, though vigorous, may be entirely too cleverly self-contained.
Cardona neither adorns his space nor costumes his nimble, expressionless dancers beyond the most casual street wear. There’s no masking, no protection for them, nor for the audience occasionally exposed by Roderick Murray’s unpredictable lighting.
The piece begins as one of Cardona’s male dancers, barefoot, wanders out of the wings and kneels. Another crawls, and a third strolls past the wall. The voiceover text (“He led a somewhat uneventful life”) offers banal biographical tidbits as the leisurely rearrangement of these and a few more dancers subtly trains our eyes to roam the expanse of the stage. Murray also addresses the theater’s roominess by setting up shady or bright sectors for performers to inhabit or temporarily dip into.
In a mercurial solo, Cardona moves in the manner of a marionette with paddle-like arms. His springy body folds and juts. The aesthetics here inform much of the following segments performed by his core septet and, later, dozens of local dancers.
Dancing unfolds amid the irritating, overlapping chatter of voices reading what sounds like academic papers; the siren call of Grace Slick’s “Somebody to Love” and Cream’s “I Feel Free,” issued as if from a distant or dimly remembered radio; the Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s romantic, ethereal vocalizing. Like the opening’s drifting dancers, these sounds shift us in time, memory, and place.
The chorus sings Kline’s music first from the balcony, then descends to the aisles. Towards the work’s conclusion, the singers dramatically fill and restrict the stage space. Ducking and dodging amid this grid of bodies, two dancers enact a furious duet.
Rarely does Cardona’s choreography—though brightly performed by Julian Barnett and Omagbitse Omagbeni, among others—reach that sung-about freedom. This is a work of eventful moments. Perhaps its poetry is meant to cohere in the mind of each beholder.