Monday, September 24, 2012

Turning Dance On Its Head: David Zambrano's Walker Art Center performance mixes show tunes, circus atire and eclectic choreography




Watching David Zambrano’s company perform Soul Project last Friday was like watching the regular performers of the Gay 90’s act in Baz Luhrman’s wet dream.

Don’t believe me? Witness the Moulin Rouge-like costumes, complete with circus clown hair and makeup; a set of faahhhh-bulous show tune covers by the likes of Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner; and choreography that swiftly alternated between strained, stoic poses, krumping and feats of breakdancing athleticism.

Like most every element of David Zambrano's Soul Project, even the viewing experience was turned on its head.
During its recent two-night stay at the Walker Art Center, there were no stadium seating or spotlights present; instead, a softly-colored club scene was inhabited by the audience, who were led from the traditional vantage point through the backstage door to crowd around the performers on stage behind the curtain, creating an unpredictably amorphous sightline.
And what did those in attendance see exactly?
Dancers in Moulin Rouge-like costumes comprised of a host of carefully “found” objects, complete with circus clown hair and makeup, a set of faahhhh-bulous show tune covers by the likes of Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner, and choreography that swiftly alternated between strained, stoic poses, krumping and feats of breakdancing athleticism.
I’m not entirely sure what to say about the choreography itself. It was clearly intentional and thoroughly rehearsed, and in infrequent moments, such as a buoyantly lithe “I Will Survive,” it was inspirational. But too many times it felt like a self-induced seizure moment, something one might witness during a revelrous evening around a hippy campfire, but not after buying an expensive ticket to watch an internationally renowned dance company.
I must be missing something, though, because the show has been touring internationally since 2006 and has seen a veritable stampede of dancers prance through its run. If Lady Gaga had never happened, if the maudlin and macabre was no longer pop music’s swan song, Soul Project might seem a breath of fresh air, a rejection of the strict conformity so often ascribed to dance, and I could see some appeal. But as it was, it seemed tired, the kind of show patrons see to pat themselves on the back about their open-mindedness and edgy taste.
To anyone who enjoyed Soul Project, I salute you. You found the emperor’s clothes, and maybe you can help me find them next time.
+ Learn more about David Zambrano at davidzambrano.org; for a calendar of events coming up at the Walker Art Center visit walkerart.org.