Dancemakers Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, have notably and characteristically synthesized their investigations in movement with their study of culture and humankind. As a graduate of anthropology, Sara Draper, the artistic director of Dancepatheatre, has taken a similar approach. In her one-night-only, June 20 repertory concert, Memories of Spain, she traversed the Iberian Peninsula with postcard precision. A glimpse of the region’s ancient history, a peek at its rhythmical underpinning, a gander at its cultural temperament. Including revisited work, dance in development, and a premiere performance, the evening managed to coalesce into an enticing mosaic, depicting not only Spanish culture, but Draper’s own creative sojourns.
Leading with two recovered works, Draper gave the audience a taste of her past in El Cerrojo and The Back, a self-choreographed solo work lifted from her 2003 Life Museum series. El Cerrojo (The Door Latch) is a duet for two women set to both English and Spanish translations of the Bible’s fifth chapter of Song of Songs. The text is punctuated by compass seco (pure percussion) clapping rhythms. On this evening, dancers Lydia Hance and Joani Trevino gave strong performances, fervor rising to the surface in waves as they waited and searched together for their lover.
Sheathed in a classic but simple gown and deftly concealing her face throughout The Back, Draper’s envious dorsal musculature is on display. The Back quivers in what we might imagine is a fit of tears. Like Atlas, it bears the weight of the world. In a final, climactic image, The Back supports the wingspan of a free and ascending spirit. At first glance, the Chopin score (a sparkling rendition of Nocturne No. 2 played live onstage by Timothy Hester), and the work’s focus on physique seemed an uncertain fit for the program. However, Draper’s introspective look at the hardships and joys of womanhood, and her sensual, feminine, and unpretentious treatment of this body part was, unexpectedly, a complimentary prologue.
A tonadilla, I discovered, is literally a little ditty that was originally inserted during the entr’acte of theatrical productions in 18th century Spain. Satirical and gossipy commentaries on Spanish life, these interludes featured singers that rose to a level of fame that would rival today’s pop stars. A collection of five short pieces in this style were utilized in a premiere work, aptly titled Five Tonadilla with Elementals. Though I had none of the above frame of reference and understood none of the Spanish lyric, these melodramatic vignettes nevertheless emerged as a charming collection.
For Draper, this was a first attempt to incorporate a classical vocalist into her choreography. Overall the blending worked. It is a challenge to put non-dancers on stage beside trained movers. For the most part soloist Shannon Langman, seemed at home with the subtle gestures and more pedestrian adaptations of the core choreography. She exhibited expert control of tone and breath even while moving toward or rising from the floor and as she fell backward in a maneuver of trust with the dancers. It was ultimately Langman that stole this performance as the symmetrical hovering of the two Elementals (again a pairing of Lydia Hance and Joani Trevino), often blended into the background.
Following an interjected flamenco suite featuring guitarist Valdemar Phoenix and dancer Ana de la Peza, were extracted solos and duets from Dancepatheatre’s ongoing project, Al Andalus! The Legend. Having feasted on a program of thumbnail dances thus far, I’ll admit I was ready to sink my teeth into something a bit meatier. I got more appetizers. Pushing this aside, however, the seven snapshots increased in their allure as the program progressed. Lydia Hance and Richard Hubscher were a technically beguiling pair. Missing, however, was the chemistry befitting two lovers. A male duet featuring Hubscher and Sterling Ramsey seemed tentative. However, standout performances concluded the program. Namely, a pre-flamenco gypsy solo performed by singer and dancer Lucia Rodriguez-Sanchez and two contrasting solos by dancer Kristina Koutsoudas. Shrouded in a black Moorish tunic revealing only her hands and eyes, and somberly illuminated according to Jeremy Choate’s design, Koutsoudas was mesmerizing as a mournful Berber princess whose tribe has been slaughtered. Equally captivating were the joyous and seductive gyrations of her hips and torso in a celebratory finale. I will be curious to see this epic work eventually complete with the transitions and continuity I craved.