If Cyrus Khambatta’s goal for the Seattle International Dance Festival is to be provocative, he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations with the first weekend’s program. On opening night, 10 minutes into the second work about a dozen patrons walked out; at intermission many more left, with less than half the audience remaining for the last piece.
I wish I could say that my sympathies were with Brazil’s Experimentus, the company that so offended, or bored, audience members. But the two works the troupe presented were so self-indulgent, so mystifying and so long it’s hard to understand why Khambatta selected the company for the Festival at all, let alone for the opening performance.
The work that caused the initial exodus was “Dispositvo Móvel.” The proximate reason was the nudity of male dancer Thales Luz. Although this is hardly the first time for nudity in a local performance, advance publicity and printed programs typically carry a warning. Neither was the case here.
Even before Luz removed his clothes, it was clear this was an obtuse work, performance art rather than dance. The solo piece began with a fully clothed Luz entering an almost bare stage and sitting down at a school desk. From there the work rambled through a series of inexplicable scenes — Luz repeating a number of meaningless actions, culminating in his spewing what appeared to be grated Parmesan cheese.
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The nudity came early on, with Luz remaining unclothed for the duration. There was nothing particularly scandalous, but the nudity didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than shock value. What’s worse, “Dispostivo Móvel” didn’t go anywhere; the final image of Luz spitting out cheese, or whatever it was, failed to offer any coherence. It was as baffling as everything that had gone before.
After an endless intermission, Experimentus returned with an equally overlong work, this time with Luz and choreographer Paulo Lima maneuvering around a floor covered with water-filled balloons. Sometimes they scooted around on their bottoms, sometimes they crawled and sometimes they walked, until the final scene when they broke the balloons over each other’s bodies.
There were a few moments of fun but by the time “The Grey Color of Things” ended, there was hardly anyone left in Raisbeck Hall to enjoy them.
Rounding out the program was Khambatta’s latest work for his own company. “Vice and Virtue” is a pure dance piece that started out well with two female dancers slyly passing an apple between them. The reference to the Garden of Eden was clear and Khambatta kept us guessing which was Eve and which the snake. But after the first few minutes, the piece devolved into repetitive movements despite the addition of three more dancers.
Khambatta is capable of compelling choreography, but “Vice and Virtue” is not one of his better efforts. Seattle International Dance Festival continues with a new slate of international performers through June 22.
Alice Kaderlan is a Seattle-based arts journalist who writes about dance and other subjects.