Dallas — Hello 2020! Now that the holidays are officially over and comfy pants are no longer acceptable 24-hour wear, I hope you’ve all had the chance to peruse the slew of dance performances coming to DFW in the new year. As companies continue their seasons and others just begin, get ready for new premieres (like North Texas’ Full Circle Dance) and old favorites (The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s return to the Winspear). As one of the most celebrated presenters of dance, AT&T Performing Art’s Center’s TITAS/Dance Unbound kicked off the second half of their season with a one-night-only showing from Delfos Danza Contemporanea of Mazatlán, Mexico.
Slow to start, the curtain opened to reveal a glowing tree with swaying projections as two dancers stretched generously with back-and-forth momentum. Dissonant noises collided with the smooth, circling upper bodies of the dancers as they pushed on and off stage. In concise, nude costumes, the scene emitted a natural, organic vibe that contrasted the futuristic projections of their bodies against the cyclorama. The complex backgrounds pulled focus from the actual moving bodies — however the repetitive choreography and familiar themes made space for this diversion.
Born out of the minds of artistic directors and founders Victor Manuel Ruiz and Claudia Lavista in collaboration with the company, the choreography strayed from the more ordinary opening phrases into intriguing isolated gestures as the music transitioned to airy vocals. Blooming fingers and swirling wrists brought the dancers into a tight clump that unraveled with sustained rolls across the floor.
Abrupt atmospheric shifts cast an unsettled feeling throughout the audience — pushing them to anticipate each twist and turn of the dramatic narrative. Although When Disguises are Hung Up (Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan) is one evening-length piece, it is made up of multiple diverse sections — Ruiz and Lavista’s clever structure creating several developed worlds within a single piece.
These drastically different environments melded together near the middle of the work as dancers directed their partners by pulling the strings imbedded in the backs of their costumes. In addition to the ever-changing projections, each time the cast entered the stage they donned a new layer to their clothing — subtly transforming along with their surroundings. Dancers tugged on these strings with an unhurried delicacy — matching the plucking sounds in the accompaniment. These manipulation motifs tied together the concept of disguise, masking the self, and acting in accordance with society’s expectations.
Suddenly their controlled movements stopped. A single dancer stepped forward slowly as a white jacket floated behind him. Once this was placed on his body, he lunged to unveil a hidden partner attached to his back in a second jacket. In increasingly frantic pulls, grabs, and throws, additional duets surged through the space — taking the concept of control to an escalated level.
For the most mesmerizing section of the work, a pair of women freshly stripped of their confining jackets were propped into standing poses that resembled dolls or mannequins. A haunting piano track sprinkled with disrupting mechanical noises complimented the couples’ sweeping yet hollow turns, tapping fingers, and estranged undulations.
While When Disguises are Hung Up drives a strong narrative, this is not to say that all details are so straightforward. Part of the magic behind the piece lies in the surprising ambiguity of various props, costumes, and scenic additions. A man in a wire hoop cage skirt, dancers shuffling about with shoes on their hands, and swamp monsters make bold appearances towards the climax of the show.
Amongst the entrancing visuals and busy choreography, only a few moments of stillness stood out — none more refreshing than the finish. As the tree from the beginning grew into the background, the cast simply stood, sat, and lounged casually — watching as the wild birdlike pixels scattered into the wind. With their backs to the audience, a sense of true peace filled the auditorium, acting as one final collective sigh of contentment before the lights faded.
CORRECTION: Delfos Danza Contemporanea is based in Mazatlán, Mexico. The original review listed their home as Mexico City. TheaterJones regrets the error.