By SUSAN BROILI
The Miami-based Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre has delighted American Dance Festival audiences in four previous ADF performances here that were informed by Rosie Herrera’s keen sense of humor, vivid imagination, eclectic music and inclusive cast. And, performances this summer of 2018 proved to be no exception.
Who else would have thought of using slices of what resembled processed luncheon meat as both prop and food in “Carne Viva,” the first number in the program on Friday, July 6 at Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater. And, then there was the world premiere of “Make Believe” in which a jumbo, inflated castle-shaped structure took on human qualities.
Also, this company embodies a Latin American vibe: current company members hail from Cuba while artistic director Herrera is Cuban-American. Her company has always welcomed diversity and performances often have a show-style flair.
The program opened with “Carne Viva” (literal translation: “long live meat” although there may be a colloquial meaning associated with “carne”, a Spanish feminine noun).
It opened with the tall, muscular Simon Thomas-Train taking on an endurance challenge as he repeatedly hoisted a female dancer above his head and held her there, his hands under her arm pits, until his body started to shake from the effort. Then, he lowered her and repeated this process longer than seemed humanly possible.
Enter three female performers who placed meat on his thighs as he sat cross-legged, perhaps to re-energize him after his heroic efforts. But he didn’t eat the meat. Instead, the women ravenously consumed the protein. And, at least one of them needed it as she inserted her head in his arm pit as he was prone (face down), his body in a “star” position, arms and legs spread wide, and pushed him around on the floor.
And, two of the women needed the meat for the fight between them. And, I mean a hard-scrabble, strange form of wrestling that was over-the-top. They crawled over each other. One rolled the other like a log into her lap. They scrambled and scraped, separated and went at it over and over until all they could do was hold onto each other, their breathing labored.
The world premiere of the American Dance Festival co-commissioned “Make Believe” provided a number of imaginative experiences.
It began with the full cast: Ivonne Batanero, Abel Berenguer, Loren Davidson, Rayne J. Raney, Katie Stirman, Simon Thomas-Train and Elaine Wright, dressed in sparkly red and white costumes. They clasped hands and shimmied as though to say “It’s show time.” To club music, five dancers slapped their bodies, clapped their hands, punched fists into the air and jumped, arms thrown up.
When music stopped suddenly, the scene shifted to some women cast members using healing touch on a woman, who appeared to be older than cast members. When they left her alone, she stood still, reached out with her hands, her mouth open in a silent scream. She covered her mouth and made an eerie sound.
To Astrud Gilberto’s bossa nova hit “The Look of Love,” cast members joined her and danced while she stood still.
To say there was a lot more going on in “Make Believe” would be an understatement and there’s no way to recount it all here so I’m fast-forwarding to the mega imaginative last section that began as a performer struggled to pull an elephantine object upstage and there it “slept” until finally “it” began to “grow” almost crushing a male dancer who had collapsed on this form. Soon, it mushroomed, thanks to air that “magically” filled it. And, what to my eyes should appear but a ginormous, four-turreted castle with an area in the center for bounding. None of the cast bounced there. But the man who had the close call and the female dancer he met on the castle’s front step, proceeded to explore underneath the object. First, he held up a corner of the castle and she ventured under it and performed a head roll. Still underneath, the couple, on their backs, supported their end of the castle by bracing their feet on the bottom. Then, they stood and he supported that corner until, in a split second, he grabbed her and together they shot out from under the castle just in time before it lumbered down.
The last image proved a delightful surprise as all humans gone, the four turrets, two on each side, suddenly started moving their “heads” and bodies as though, as though – they were dancing.