Posted by: trailerpilot | 03:13::2009

David Roussève/REALITY

David Roussève.  Photo by Jorge Vismara.

David Roussève. Photo by Jorge Vismara.

Saudade, the evening-length work David Roussève and his ensemble REALITY are currently touring and which opened here last night at the Dance Center of Columbia College, hits some high highs in its 100 minutes.  The lows are mostly the result in one way or another of an ambition to do too much in one evening (showing even half of what I saw would have been impressive) but never fall so sourly as to compromise the effect of its best moments.

The execution of this work is commendable.  Roussève and Assistant Director [and cast member (and creator of a short film I was in)] Marianne Kim have a strict eye for detail.  Some of the tonal shifts and transitions are hugely ambitious and it’s to their credit, and the fine ensemble’s, that they’re almost all pulled off with confidence.  It’s no secret I’m something of a finish fetishist, and I appreciated during each minute the care and deliberation that went into a thousand tiny decisions.  One of the biggest dividends it pays is to the show’s length:  Long, yes, and with no intermission, it moves forward so carefully and meditatively that there’s little opening to drop out as a viewer. Transfixing may be the word.

Many of Saudade‘s finest moments are Roussève’s.  Carefully and meditatively moving forward is essentially the beginning and end of his self-direction:  He walks a slow diagonal, upstage right to downstage left, over the course of the piece.  Often stopping, and occasionally only indicating forward motion, he’s nevertheless true to this narrow palette.  None of the handful of solos and monologues he performs throughout the work carry him even a nanometer backward and only rarely did he pull his gaze from his destination.  And how these begin and end!  We can see these spirits (a former slave girl, a New Orleans mother tested to the last by Katrina, a man deciding whether or not he’s on his deathbed) drop into and out of his body with touching precision, Roussève opening up to allow the entirety of their experience to guide his speech and body language.  It’s like Joey Arias’ Billie Holiday shtick or Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown in Ghost only heart-wrenchingly, bravely sincere.

Not that he isn’t surrounded by talent:  The seven other performers rip their many roles to shreds and the production (especially David Ferri’s lighting design, David Karagianis’ sound, and Peter Melville’s cohesive, simple décor) is top-notch.  In a pleasant departure from what was sometimes an overall surplus of literalness, Melville’s few furnishings are obvious but left quizzically unexplained:  An electric folding chair sits like a casual menace in one of Saudade‘s final scenes and many pieces are constructed partially of metal crutches.  The backdrop, a simple black-and-white grid hand-drawn and patterned like a giant crossword puzzle or wall with missing tiles, remains mysterious throughout many changes in opacity and color.

Scene from Saudade.  Video by Ashley Hunt.

A scene from Saudade. Video by Ashley Hunt.

I liked Saudade.  It’s exhausting on purpose, which makes it less so.  However, one wonders if the kind of constant emotional intensity pushed by Roussève (and, if I know her, Kim) best serves the piece’s profoundly affecting stories.  Too frequently the ensemble members are in extremis abusing one another, jumping across borders from affection into suffocation, yelling, gasping for air, overacting and the like.  It’s the piece that doesn’t fit in an evening where everything has been seemingly worried over for countless hours.  Also, interestingly, Roussève gives nary a flirt to such boldface.  His monologues are balanced and nuanced to perfection.  Could it be he’s not sure whether they can carry the same weight outside a wildly contrasting context?  I hope not; I can watch balanced and nuanced a lot longer than I can remain interested in sadistic tickling or faux drama.  One late scene, via video, seems particularly unnecessary and unwarranted.  In this regard I agree more or less with Claudia La Rocco’s Times review.

Marianne Kim, Sri Susilowati and Anjali Tata-Hudson.  Photo by Jorge Vismara.

Marianne Kim, Sri Susilowati and Anjali Tata-Hudson. Photo by Jorge Vismara.

The preview press and REALITY’s materials made it sound like Saudade was going to be an evening-length dance-theater work to Fado music and, thankfully, I was misled.  Not that it’s not gorgeous and fitting–it’s both–but there are nine songs scattered throughout the evening which, long as it is, leaves most of the piece’s duration in the simple aural realms of speech (Roussève’s monologues and many short, abstract scenes by the ensemble), standard-issue soundscapey stuff (Karagianis) and silence.  The songs are again carefully chosen; Roussève’s stated goal–that the themes common to the Portuguese folk form underline and reinforce the themes in the work–was accomplished.

Saudade went over very well here:  I’d say half the house gave it a hearty standing ovation.  I abstained, but only because I could see in it the potential for a shorter evening with more invitations to subtlety for the ensemble and a closer look at which scenes do and do not belong on the show’s diagonal path, carefully and meditatively moving forward.



  1. Thanks for the very well considered and well written review. It’s nice to hear that the tiny decisions that sustain the whole come across. Though perhaps not in every section, the “overacting” was sometimes cut for me by its direct acknowledgment and humor. I feel like the balance of these elements is rarely struck and this piece does it for me– and for it all to come from a very sincere place just makes it that much more pleasing.

    Emily (MAPP International Productions, Producer of David Rousseve/REALITY’s Saudade)

  2. Thanks Emily for reading, for your comments and for the link at the MAPP International site. I’m still digesting last night’s show–so many dense moments. My best to the company for the rest of its tour.

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