FringeArts presented a three-night run of MANERIES over the past weekend, an hour-plus solo work for dancer Florencia Vecino which was conceived and directed by Luis Garay. In a tightly focused and intense performance, Vecino executed a collection of gestures, poses, and movements that the program materials explained she mixes up “live, like a DJ” on each occasion.
Despite the fact that Vecino brought this work of art to life, gripping the audience with her riveting and exacting performance, there was no information about her in the program other than her name. This omission is a trend I’ve seen too much of lately. The program did inform us, however, that choreographer Luis Garay was born in Columbia in 1981. He has studied in Finland, France and Argentina, where he has been producing dances for the past 15 years. He “works on the crossover of scenic languages, putting the limits, extensions and definitions of the body in the center of his concerns.”
The evening started out serenely, with Vecino center stage, dimly lit, standing still. Or was she slightly moving…was some sort of distortion going on, like a body morphing shape in a fun-house mirror? As a beat slowly materialized (computer-generated by onstage electronic musician Mauro Panzillo), her motion increased, as she isolated various body parts, rendering distinct dynamic qualities of movement. The mid-section of her body expanded and contracted, sometimes rippling like a disturbance on a pool of water.
Vecino seemed to be inhabiting her body for the first time, as if she were trying this body out, to see how it could move and what it might be capable of. Her long arms appeared sharp and strong, then fluid and expressive, fingers moving deftly in precise detail. The possibilities she seemed to discover were always surprising, including odd facial movements, running in large circles that turned into flat-out sprinting, prolonged hopping in a squat, and guttural screaming as if to test the capacity of her vocal chords to produce volume of sound.
The term maneries is a concept developed by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and refers to the idea of embracing both the universal and the particular at the same time. In the case of Garay’s choreography for this piece, it speaks to the notion of the body as both a universal phenomenon and the particular entity of an individual – here Florencia Vecino.
Like a figure drawing or painting, this dance presented the human form for the viewer to contemplate. Usually it’s difficult to look at a static painting and stay engaged in the contemplation for an hour or more. But a dance performance can give the body a dimension in time, increasing the opportunity for aesthetic absorption. In MANERIES, Vecino allowed us to observe the body as a vehicle of wonder. In one section of the piece she removed her clothing, which deepened the mystery of how an individual animates the universal form of the human body.
The stark white lighting, designed by Edu Maggiolo, contrasted with the general darkness that pervaded the stage. Together with the dancer’s black shorts and halter-top, the effect was similar to a black and white film. Vecino’s performance of the movement was direct, articulate, and unsentimental. Panzillo’s electronic music varied the sonic landscape, and added to the austere atmosphere of the dance.
MANERIES built to a climatic ending as the music pulsated louder and louder, and Vecino’s movements became more and more vigorous, strange, and unpredictable. Things seemed to be spinning almost out of control when a man (presumably choreographer/director Garay) strode onto the floor, instructing by gesture that it was time for the audience to applaud. Panzillo and Vecino abruptly stopped their activities, took a brief bow and left the performance space, leaving the audience immersed in the pounding, swirling sound. It was an unexpected yet invigorating end to this theatrical encounter.
[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] April 14-16, 2016; fringearts.com.