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Mal Pelo - 'Bach'

by Annie Wells

October 12, 2006 -- The Place, London

As it emerged, I was not alone in wondering how Mal Pelo’s María Muños would extend an already grueling 45 minute solo into ‘a much longer work’. When post-show discussion chair Donald Hutera pointed out an error in the programme - this was the longer work - a discernible sigh of relief emanated from the large number remaining. It was evident, however, that the collective out-breathe was rather altruistic than selfish. It came in reaction to more questions being answered about how in her energetic and idiosyncratic style, this uncommonly appealing dancer would be able to continue at such a pace, than how she would be able to maintain spectator focus.

Bach is a pure-movement response to a selection of preludes and fugues from the composer’s extensive work, “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Danced to and between pianist Glenn Gould’s renditions, the work takes a journey through a stimulatingly unpredictable spectrum of shape and emotion. Androgynously dressed in a black suit and unusually heavy shoes, Muños reacted to the music in thrillingly punctilious fashion, all the while developing a unique dance character.

She swept through and beyond the lines, swirls and arches of the preludes with a grace and fervour that recalled iconic modern dancers such as Duncan, Humphrey and Graham. As she became increasingly possessed by the need to beat and counter-beat the unrelenting fugues, the mood grew more tragi-comic. It was now Chaplin that echoed through her movement and expression.

August Viladomat’s simple but innovative lighting designs and Núria Font’s video images contributed much to the latter stages of the work by taking it into new spaces and dimensions. Muños’ interactions with doorways and descending strips were cleverly effective and really served to cultivate the silent movie ambiance.

As if finally ‘released’ from the dance, Muños was as captivating in conversation as she had been in motion. Despite an insecure command of the English language, she became strikingly fluent and articulate when speaking in terms of the art so clearly essential to her being. Unpretentious and humble, it was as enlightening, moving and refreshing to listen to her talk about her work as it was to watch her dance it.

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