July 4, 2005
There’s nothing quite like merging candy and violence to get those choreographic wheels turning. Piñata, Brian Brooks’ new dance for five dancers and a billion bits of paper, draws its inspiration from those weird little tissue animals that birthday kids bash to smithereens in search of second-rate confections. Brooks demonstrates his simultaneous love for clean lines, exotic costumes, and innocent fun.
A white marley rectangle serves as Brooks’ canvas. The dance opens with a re-enactment of the smashing ritual. Enter the rest of the dancers, dressed like refugees from The Little Prince on Pierrot dress-up day, in frilly tops, knickers, pilot caps, bows, and shoulder feathers. The white floor transforms into an active surface making the dancers rise like crackle-pop-in-your-mouth candy, flipping and flopping like acrobatic fish. Brooks’ finesse with floorwork and the company’s mighty abdominals are in ample evidence.
Brooks introduces the color and costume changes sparingly in paint-by-number fashion. Repetitive diagonal side hops in an “x” pattern while outstretched arms release confetti and change the air from white to orange. Weena Pauly, looking like a floating blue-bowed angel, leaks blue confetti while bathed in Jeremy Morris-Burke’s also blue light set to Tom Lopez’s crisp score.
Throughout the dance the confetti takes on life of its own charging the space with a kind of champagne fizz. From snow globe effect, to punctuation, to a kind of amplification of motion, Brooks gets those paper pieces working for him. An elegant, but spare, kicking dance unearths the gathered multi-colored ground litter. And who could forget the giddy party toss in the bottom-scooting conga line danced to Senor Coconut’s zany tune.
Two dancers enter wearing curious black flamenco dresses and repeat the deliberate sequence of piñata evisceration (this time with a pointe shoe piñata) from the beginning. The rest of the piñata people return wearing even more fantastic black dresses complete with feathered head regalia. After a moment of mutual admiration they proceed to plant their feet into the floor and ride every delicious moment of Ravel’s Bolero with just their arms and hands. So, where is the black confetti? It’s invisible, as hand swoops stir Ravel’s intoxicating melody into the air. Stark, white frontal lighting illuminate ten soaring hands, diving and catching every note. It’s ravishing. Brooks and his troupe, Nicholas Duran, Alexander Gish, Jo-Anne Lee, and Pauly danced with charm, conviction, and agility.
At first it seems as if Brooks swerves off the path he has meticulously put forth in his hand ballet. A closer examination reveals the set-up stays the same; Brooks dresses up his dressed-down dance. Clearly, this strict formalist knows how to throw a party.