Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dance review: Split-personality ballets give Gamonet show mixed message


By Sharon McDaniel

LAKE WORTH – Experimental and controversial, choreographer Jimmy Gamonet de los Heros is a man of opposites. His modern ballets manhandle viewers’ hearts with their elegance, freshness and artistry. Others draw quizzical frowns and nervous chuckles over what can only be called circus kitsch meets Las Vegas floor show.

Sadly, there’s little middle ground. At least that’s the impression created by four of the Miami resident’s ballets Friday night at the opening of the Duncan Theatre’s popular dance series, staged before a near-sell-out crowd.

Either way, the artist played one consistent ace, his 5-year-old Miami company, Ballet Gamonet. The strength and beauty of Friday’s 12 lithe, flexible dancers could mesmerize. They made even mundane movements look good. They’re Olympians at gymnastics and pointe, give-it-all-you’ve-got gusto and poise.

But not even the company’s fine solo and ensemble work could smooth over the split-personality swings between ballets. Nous Sommes (We Are, 1987), perhaps the evening’s oldest and most popular work, deserves its signature status. A honeymoon adagio of imaginative beauty and soulful substance, it is inspired, thoughtful Gamonet. It balances the provocative with the innocent, and required a duo of great stamina and strength.

It helped, too, that dancing Friday was Iliana Lopez, the former Miami City Ballet principal ballerina for whom the work was created. Lopez looked positively youthful and radiant in response to her partner, the striking Chilean newcomer Miroslav Pejic. It all fit perfectly with the gentle, poignant music of Bailero (from Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne).

Its opposite was Recitations (It Sounds Like), equal parts mystery, irritation and farce -- a heck of an opener. Gamonet is either dead-sure of his audience or just loves in-your-face introductions.

Recitations’ “score” is a spoken French, nonsense and otherwise. A single woman’s speech is cleverly arranged by Juan Carlos Espinoza in an endless loop of rhythmic, melodic sing-song. It’s as much theatrical prop as accompaniment for three prancing Las Vegas showgirls who mime the repetitive phrases.

Their headdresses – enormous white cotton-candy-like constructions – at best resemble, uh, calla lilies. Flesh-colored bodysuits and thoughtfully positioned sequins give the coquettish trio the impression of near-nudity.

Their synchronized theatrics alternate, then merge, with more sober modern dance set to music of Africa and Arvo Part. Lopez, Pejic, Susan Bellow and Joshua Bodden are the stalwart athletes whose mannequin-like movements take on the nature of a primer, the choreographer’s basic A-B-Cs, which come back like a quiz in the evening’s finale, Les Echanges, also set to Africa and Part.

Still, Recitations seems more like a commercial – a poster by Toulouse-Lautrec that stands in for one of his paintings. As it zigzags through nine tableaux, it’s a long commercial at that.

The best departure was But I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a gentle darkest-before-the-dawn ballet for the eight women. Set to sections of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (1976) and Thomas Oboe Lee’s String Quartet (1996), it is a moody, thoughtful tribute to the resilience of spirit.

It’s also a tribute – in movement, expression and floor-length costumes -- to dance legends Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. And considering that it followed Recitations on the program, it’s also a far more sympathetic view of women, especially realized by Susan Bello in each solo.

Gamonet has long shown that he is an engaging, insightful and astonishingly well-rounded choreographer-designer. Just two examples of how his mind works: All four ballets in Friday’s mixed bill featured the human voice – singing or speaking – in the music or as its main device. As articulate in words as in movement, Gamonet added pithy details to the excellent program notes by Vicki Vigorito.

But this go-round at the Duncan Theatre, he gave his excellent dancers too little to chew on. They’re capable of much more. So is Gamonet.

The Duncan Theatre dance series continues through March 21 at Palm Beach Community College. Next in the series are these events, all at 8 p.m.: Jan. 30, 31: The Best of MOMIX (sold out); Feb. 20, 21: Bill T. Jones / Arne Zane Dance Company; March 20, 21: Trey McIntyre Project. It’s at 4200 Congress Ave., Lake Worth. For $35 tickets, call (561) 868-3309 or visit www.pbcc.edu/duncan.

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