Where Has Mal Pelo Been All These Years?

May 10, 2009

Touch the air. Hold something and let it evaporate in your hands. That was the kind of elusive, illusive dancing Maria Muñoz gave us last Thursday in Bach, a solo that was part of the Catalan Days festival at Baryshnikov Arts Center. One noticed the hands. Useful hands, not dainty ballet hands. One noticed the androgynous, vulnerable face.

   Muñoz is rooted, with a low center of weight, head tucked into herself, but she can just as easily lift off like a marionette. She can be self-effacing and fidgety, or she can carve through space with power. She could be a fisherman or a scholar; she could be a descendant of Charlie Chaplin or an ancestor of Harry Potter.


Photo by Jordi Bover, Courtesy Mal Pelo.

   Much of her dancing was with eyes averted, busy in her own world, gaze never meeting ours. So it was startling when she came downstage center and suddenly faced front. One odd gesture interrupting another—like hiccups migrating all over the body. A blurry swipe at her own neck, hands push out flat, then fingers crumble, her face reacting almost in surprise and something else—maybe shame, then determination. All in about three seconds.

    She danced to silence as often as to a recording of Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. At one point an outlined image of her appeared on a screen upstage, larger than life. This lit-up outline moved in a more fluid, voluptuous way, perhaps a reminder of her younger self. (I witnessed her terrific improvising in a studio at Bennington College and onstage at Jacob’s Pillow 16 years ago.)

    Maria Muñoz is half of a duo (with Pep Ramis) called Mal Pelo who run a dance center outside Barcelona. Their name means “bad hair” in Spanish but they make good theater. Two imaginations merge into one series of whimsical scenes and inventions. I loved this solo, but I also yearn to see the work they are making together.