Dallas — Little did I know that filmmaker Luís Buñuel was pals with Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca, that he had a drinking problem, or that he was a great flamenco dancer. But thanks to Matthew Posey’s Buñuel Descending, revived at the Ochre House Theater as part of the 2016 Dallas Flamenco Festival, I am no longer clueless.
Let’s say that Mr. Posey took some liberties with facts: in my reading about Buñuel there’s no mention of drinking, and of course, he wasn’t a flamenco dancer.
The idea, apparently, was to capture a moment in Buñuel’s life before he became the darling of the surrealist movement (except he already was). There is absolutely nothing surreal about this play besides the idea of a filmmaker Buñuel becoming a flamenco dancer…unless you count the truly bizarre puppets: exotic birds in one scene, a Chinese dragon in another.
But more about Justin Locklear’s puppets later.
The play begins with Buñuel (Antonio Arrebola) slumped over a table, bottle of red wine on one side, several half-full and -empty glasses on the other side. At the far side of the stage sit flamenco guitarist (Calvin Hazen), cantor and flute (Alfonso Cid) and cajon/percussion (Bobby Fajardo). It takes a long time for Buñuel to wake up from a drunken stupor, and when his head finally lifts, we see a dazed, bleary-eyed man. He sits. He grabs a half-full glass, and with one backward swig, empties it. The music keeps playing.
It’s a slow start, but picks up when two figures in crinkly red paper bags over their heads appear, holding puppet birds with beaks long and dangerous. The first thing one bird does is to duck his beak into a half-full glass. Then both birds talk (in Spanish, so I have no idea what they are saying except that it must be, “Buñuel, wake up, you lazy bastard!”) When the masks come off, we discover Buñuel’s jolly friends, Lorca and Dalí.
There’s not much more to the story. More drinking; Lorca (Ivan Jasso) and Dalí (Christopher Sykes) break out into impromptu dance, a bit wobbly on their legs; then more cajoling Buñuel to stay awake. Into their midst slinks Buñuel’s spitfire of a wife (Delilah Muse) in black and white dress with red pompoms slung around her waist. He’s huge, she’s tiny, but she is more than a match for him.
Somehow “Paris” comes up in the conversation; going off to fight against Franco (that’s how we know this tale takes place in the 1930s); “riding the train until the wheels fall off;” and more drinking. Except for Buñuel, everyone including his wife is keen to join the war.
To express all this ardor, more dancing—solos by Buñuel and his wife, then impassioned confrontations. Ms. Muse curves and coils her body snakelike, dipping very low, arching her back, weaving intricate designs with her fingers. Mr. Arrebola swivels on a dime, pulverizing the floor with a torrent of stamps, easing up, going at it again with greater fury. The musicians egg him on.
Calm returns. “Are you going with us?” pleads Jeanne Buñuel. Her husband just takes another swig. When she returns with a suitcase wearing a smart dress, black on one side, white on the other, and ruffled at the bottom, she stands motionless. He gets up, looks at her, grabs the suitcase and together they disappear in the distance.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.