It makes sense to discuss Mexico City’s Delfos and New York City’s Ailey company back-to-back. My experience of each was clarified by the other (although I think I’ve confirmed that reviewing three shows in a row is about all a boy can handle).
Both are touring, contemporary dance companies to a certain degree representative internationally of the countries in which they are based, and both are guided by the vision of a founder (in Delfos’ case, two) supplemented by work by simpatico, occasionally in-house choreographers. The technical and performative standards of both groups’ dancers are comparable, which is to say of the highest order, although in quality and approach quite divergent (more on that in a bit). Both mediate a creative terrain between art and entertainment, seeking neither credibility nor universal approval exclusively and, finally, both glean a large portion of their identity from ethnicity.
Two months ago I had never heard of Delfos Danza Contemporánea even though the company has been around since 1992. Claudia Lavista and Victor Manuel Ruiz have not left much to chance, building a group that comes on strong and firm as a singular vision despite the involvement of multiple choreographers and a co-directorship. For the most part, I’m into what they’re doing. What I’m definitely into are these dancers: Lavista and Ruiz, plus six others, are passionate, precise, and versatile as hell. The night before, I received from Ailey an energy of complacency, maybe even of boredom, that kept me from feeling like I owed them my undivided attention. Not so with Delfos: Although I walked into the Dance Center dead-tired and preoccupied, my attention was snatched within the first minute and kept rapt until the final bow.
(Briefly back to this not-leaving-much-to-chance business: Although all but one of the works were made by the dancers, there was a still-surprising uniformity to the evening’s program in design, vocabulary, and billing. Based on what I saw I’d almost call the company a collective. Four of the five pieces are introduced in the program notes with a somewhat-pompous quote—if you didn’t let me have one and simply said it was all the work of a single choreographer I wouldn’t have any reason not to believe you. Delfos definitely keeps its identity wrapped up tight. Most companies do, I suppose, but still, I noticed it repeatedly throughout the evening.)
The program opener, Nisi Dominus by Omar Carrum to a suite of Vivaldi songs, was the evening’s highlight even though it’s low point (closer Bolero by Lavista and Ruiz) wasn’t so far behind. There is real craft on display and more unique vocabulary in its fifteen-or-so minutes than in Alonzo King’s entire ouevre; the invention is truly astounding. It’s also almost laugh-out-loud challenging: Either Delfos is comprised entirely of dancers who simply don’t make many mistakes, or they rehearse under a bullwhip for thirteen hours a day. Either way, every thirty seconds or so my jaw would drop open at some phrase or another and the mere thought of having to execute it in front of an audience. Here’s what I’ll say about the discrepancy in quality and approach between this company and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Delfos’ dancers are never for a second even partially outside the movement experience. Even if I didn’t love every work on the program, the internal purity of what this octet was doing and the whole-body integration of each action was an object lesson. The Ailey dancers by contrast seemed to drift in and out of experiential focus, saved by their technique and facility rather than owning every moment on purpose.
Alone and My Soul, choreographed by Lavista, is a solo for dancer Augustin Martínez introduced by the uncredited quote “A lonely man searches within himself for the reason of his sustained synergy and discovers the answer in secret.” As an extrapolation, the piece remains true to the vagueness of the statement. Martínez is riveting and able, and in seeking (presumably) to make visual the island of a self-entertaining, lonesome dove, Lavista succeeds in keeping him interesting while simultaneously revealing nothing defining. It didn’t grab me in the moment but in retrospect has expanded in my mind like a wet sponge.
Xitlali Piña is the only choreographer on the program not to my research directly involved with DDC, which makes the not-like-the-others-ness of her work, The Border of My Skin, less of a surprise. Founding Bang on a Can member Michael Gordon‘s score is of the shrill, moody sort, pulled relentlessly forward along minimalist black tracks by a minimalist goth locomotive. A womens’ quartet [although curiously billed to only three dancers (Lavista, Karen de Luna and Diana Bayardo)] of high-theatrical quicksilver butoh, Skin begins strange and gets weirder, heavy on gestures and organized as a double-duet of vampiresses; it ends up being something like Dwight Rhoden meets The Craft. It also has a terrific ending—a friend of mine remarked at intermission that it reminded her of something M. Night Shyamalan might choreograph. Also noted in the program was that The Border of My Skin received second place at the 26th INBA-UAM Concurso de Composición Coreográfica Contemporánea.
Between Dreams and Flowers, by Ruiz to a suite of music ranging from Bach to Meredith Monk, isn’t much. Although matched well with Skin—it’s a men’s quartet and the two works bookend the program’s intermission—the front three-quarters of it is standard-issue contemporary dance lite, compositionally static and reminiscent of one of Val Caniparoli’s weaker dances. However, Ruiz ends with an image so potent it basically absolves everything that comes beforehand.
Like I mentioned earlier, Lavista’s and Ruiz’s collaborative Bolero was the evening’s only letdown. I don’t think it’s solely because it was the fourth and by far least interesting dance to Ravel’s meal ticket that I’ve seen this season; compared to everything else on the program it was surprisingly underrehearsed as well as predictable and, with it’s omniexploited, striped trenchcoats and pedestrian qualities, only made me want to see Johan Inger’s Walking Mad again—good thing Hubbard Street is bringing it back for 2009-2010.