It's good to know that the avant-garde is alive and kicking, especially since Dallas is not exactly its epicenter. Teatro Dallas' 15th International Theater Festival offered a good dose of the avant-garde Saturday night at the South Dallas Cultural Center with The Trace of Purple Sadness. It also lived up to its "international" claim.
Dancer/choreographer Ximena Garnica hails from Colombia, video and installation artist Shige Moriya from Japan, and audio-video-sound installation artist Roland Ventura Toledo from New York.
The Trace of Purple Sadness opens in silence, with Ms. Garnica emerging from curtains at the back of the stage, slowly striding forward, then standing motionless. Her space is defined by a large circle of white. For a very long time she remains in place, her head down, her features hidden, her arms wrapped around her chest. A trick of light creates horizontal ribbons around her body, and only gradually do we notice a slight shifting of the light as it glides up and down her body, giving the illusion that she is moving.
Eventually, she begins to sway, tilting far back to strange sounds like that of a scratched record, of feet stamping on a hollow platform, of water falling. Now at a different angle, the horizontal bands fade slightly, revealing a near-naked body and a long mane of black hair cascading down her back.
The program notes explains Purple Sadness as "a journey of one dancer in (a) constant state of becoming in an ever-changing world … the human body, like a flower, sprouts to maximum splendor, then decays into serene melancholy." Although this sounds pretty high-falutin', it's a pretty good description of what transpires.
Ms. Garnica's body does transform into odd shapes, sometimes so dramatically that it is not a body at all. Pin-pricks of light fall on the ground and on her otherwise nearly invisible body, where tiny stars are flickering. The sound of crackled paper adds to the illusion of distance and transformation. It's quite magical.
The lighting effects shift seamlessly as does her ever-changing form. At one point, after being upright for so long, she is on her head, only the back of her torso and her arms visible. She slaps her hands to her back in agitation, the fingers gnarled and frantic, like insects swarming over a rock. Suddenly she is prone, rotating slowly with one leg lifted up. Only then do we notice that the ground is covered with white powder, for as she spins on the floor, powder begins to cover her body, her face, her hair, and spew like smoke.
Not until the end does she sit, open her eyes and look straight out at the audience. She smiles broadly, yelling "Dallas." After an attenuated paroxysm of jerks, slaps and frantic convulsions she calms herself and restores the original image—that of a figure in prison stripes or a human candy cane, coated not in red but in black.
◊ 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.
◊ The Festival closes today, Feb. 12, with Adelina Anthony's La Angry Xicana, a comedy/theater solo show, at 3 p.m.
◊ Mark Lowry's review of the Friday night show, Elia Arce's First Woman on the Moon, is here.