MANILA, Philippines—The recently concluded three-day marathon performance fest, “The Imaginarium,” at the Peta Theater unleashed raw talent that either dared cross borders or reinvent the wheel.
Pushing boundaries means that the dance form can become a tool for outright social statement. Our non-confrontational national trait is put to a test in this nonverbal art form. Many have tried, and some attempts have been lost in translation, or worse, have fallen flat.
With a fresh burst of energy, Daloy Dance Company in its 12-part suite, “Dysmorphilia,” certainly had its golden moments.
The work, defined by the company’s artistic director and choreographer Ea Torrado as “a kinetic collage that reimagines a person’s physicality … that projects man’s necessary but often twisted aspiration for physical perfection,” proves a timely essay in this misty generation of collagened Galateas in whose quest for beauty subject themselves to chemical infusions, radio frequency modifications, outright invasive reconfiguration and then some.
And add to this, the shrill cacophony over gender and sexuality.
Obviously aimed to shock
“Dysmorphilia” starts with a dozen or so dancers clad in flesh-colored cat suits accentuated by various protrusions that the costume designer, artist Leeroy New, does not attempt to stylize. They are graphic realistic renditions of genitalia, oversized cysts or displaced fetuses obviously aimed to shock.
The dancers slowly rise from the floor and unfurl, before revving up to a full-frenzied athletically demanding choreography.
The movement is the new breed of moderne seen in this dance generation that crosses over from hip-hop to the physically cruel evolving dance genre first seen around the ’80s, coupled with the Brechtian concept of tanztheater of postwar Germany.
The moves and forms the choreography employs are obviously fueled by a large dose of classical ballet background which Torrado thoroughly claims as her biggest influence.
“…Contact improvisation [had] helped in achieving mindfulness in dance, being in the moment, and freeing my imagination when it comes to choreography,” she said.
Perhaps for lack of a better phrase, the closest way to describe it would be yet another take on dance expressionism, which really doesn’t say much until one has experienced the hypnosis of Torrado’s choreography.
Quest for beauty
The quest for beauty, acceptance, and the standards they are measured by are dealt with in each of the suites: power, social acceptance, ambition, self-esteem and all other symptoms that plague us, until conflict arises leading to discontent, envy, jealousy, competition and eventually violence.
Up until this point, the choreography holds up well, until it runs out of ways to express disgust, shock and confusion upon realizing the imperfections each body sustains.
Choreography then gives way to blood curdling screams or manic laughter. With this, the suites that survived so far as sublime are reduced to the trite side of pop media cult. Surely, there are other restrained ways to express these emotions.
On the classical stage, MacMillan succeeds in “Manon” and “Romeo and Juliet,” Petipa in “Swan Lake,” just as others too have managed.
In “Dysmorphilia,” when the graphic costumes and the spoken word came together, they underscored the message, and the intent became much too obviously like a joke whose punchline is repeated; and the curse of the verbalized emotion worked against the violent beauty of the movements.
The denouement took a while in coming, which perhaps would have proven more dramatic if the previous suites were tightened and edited. Brilliant moves were sometimes repeated, understandably like a child who revels at a newly discovered talent.
Self-absorption is, however, forgivable at this point. It is, after all Daloy’s first shot, and objectivity still has to age the brew.
The well-chosen post-rock score was in synch with the overall production design, which included the various shapes, looks and sizes of the dancers whose oneness rested on their uniformly strong technique and obvious discipline. For a young company, execution and attacks were sharp and well-defined, eschewing any shortcuts of movement in transitions.
While this piece was clearly choreographed on specific costumes that worked as props to push the narrative, the proof of endurance will lie in future works that should hold up with movement as the centripetal force, which is the eloquence of dance.
Given this company’s promising outlook and vision, it is a vibe worth the wait in the wings.