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Bay Area Response

'Identity Shifts'

by Toba Singer

May 8, 2008 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, San Francisco

“The Quetzel in Flight” danced by Jacinta Vlach/Liberation Dance Theater is a diamond in the rough in a program of five works by San Francisco Bay Area performing artists that ran from tedious: a male-female wrestling match and a dialogue between a pink-wigged transgendered feminist and an actor on screen in a gorilla mask and pink bunny suit—to  mediocre: a comedy act that pandered to the shallowest of Asian stereotypes du jour, and a piece that hid all its fine dancing under a gilded layer of affect.

Vlach’s piece was inspired by a book of the same name by her mother, Norita, which addresses the culture liabilities incurred when Latin American immigrant women seek a path into North American idealism. Three dancers, Lucienne Alicea, Yeni Lucero-Rivera and Jacinta Vlach, interpret the cross-currents between a grandmother, mother and girl-child (Abuela, Madre and Niña) in the crucible of countervailing pressures.  A screened backdrop shows paintings from the “Pressing Matters” series by Ana Teresa Fernandez, who is in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in nearby Marin County. In Fernandez’ paintings, women are shown in the impossible poses they assume in every day life:  ironing in high heels, washing the ocean, or sweeping up the detritus in front of a border of stakes between two lands.

While the intonations in Fernandez’s paintings are hard-hitting, the actual images are variously billowy, luminous or distinguished, inviting us into an orbit of women who are in many ways dazzling, no matter how oppressed and diminished society conspires to render them.  “The Quetzel in Flight” captures the rapture of that “dazzle” through broad turns and languid stretches, while a few sudden freeze-frame poses snap us back into the lock-step traditions that women find at once comforting and discomfiting. Hiked shoulders and body rolls to bluesy or tremulous drumming bring us to a place where the women download, expel, explode, repress, castigate or offer succor to one another.

Costumed in black-skirted camisoles that are edged in gentian, with hems cut in varying lengths that come to points, the women are framed by their costumes instead of getting lost in them.  Lucero-Rivera is as specific as she is poignant, Alicea’s dispassionate face belies a deeper well of feeling within, and the excitement and attack which Vlach brings to the stage sets the bar of performance quality very high.  The three dancers couldn’t be better-matched: no one dancer upstages the other two, and as they shift identities, no dancer loses hers.  This is a company that puts the Dance back into Modern!

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