Dance

At MDC’s Live Arts Lab, Miami choreographers present bold new experiments

Written By Elizabeth Hanly
May 6, 2019 at 6:27 PM

The work of three Miami choreographers, each with radically distinct visions of movement and dance, will be presented this Thursday and Friday, May 9-10, at Miami Dade College’s Live Arts Lab. Each choreographer, all of them women, is exploring the relationship between performers and audiences. Or as choreographer Rosie Herrera puts it: “I am interested not only in increasing the vulnerability on both sides, but refining it.” Look out. 

Herrera’s work, “Tropical Depression,” with its juxtapositions of absurdity and heartbreaking moments, may be the most emotionally demanding piece of the evening. It is certainly the show’s most theatrical work. Herrera began her career at age 16 as a showgirl at a Calle Ocho theater that featured cabaret. “I was the world’s shortest showgirl,” she recalls. 

Today, well over a decade later, those cabaret roots heavily influence her work. Not only that, it was Herrera’s friendships with fellow performers on Calle Ocho, deep in the heart of Miami’s Cubanismo, that pushed her relationship with Cuba and the Caribbean to the forefront in her questions and creations. Still today in her work, she seeks “to deconstruct Cuban iconography and to understand where those icons live in my body.”

To call her choreography “poignant,” with its wild costuming, slapstick and still points, is to do it a great injustice. Indeed, so inventive is her work that the New York Times called Herrera “the Pina Bausch of South Beach,” referring to the late choreographer who collaborated with and inspired Federico Fellini and Pedro Almodóvar. 

Herrera’s reputation is growing nationally. A year ago, her company performed in New York’s sacred sanctuary of dance, the Joyce Theater. Indeed, she has been touring for most of this past year. Still, she has no thoughts of leaving Miami. “This city is my creative home. To create here where my work is deeply understood is nothing less than soul-affirming.” 

Choreographer Ana Mendez’s “Laborers” was inspired by childbirth. It will be performed May 9-10 at MDC’s Live Arts Lab. Photo courtesy Ana Mendez.

If Herrera’s work is wild and woolly, the choreography of Ana Mendez, presented in the same program, is eerily quiet. Still, Mendez, like Herrera, will be asking questions related to the relationship performers have with their audiences. She considers what it is to be seen. And when one “sees,” what does one see? What does one not see?

Mendez is well-known in the Miami community for her site-specific work, much of it presented outdoors and in the city’s gardens. In all her work, Mendez uses the body as a vehicle for exploring the spirit. Such distinctions make little sense to her. One way or another, every work focuses on transformation. Mendez is most interested in what she calls her “state-specific” work. She asks her dancers to take their movements so personally, so deeply into their bodies, that they reach, in effect, altered states. As a piece is developed, she often asks her dancers to literally dream with the movement and its images. 

At the Live Arts Lab show, Mendez will present a work titled “Laborers.” The labor she is referring to is her own during childbirth. 

“It seemed like such a great idea in theory,” Mendez says. “But after having lived the enormity of labor and birth, how to begin to find shapes and movement that could do it justice?” 

The work looks closely not only at birth, but death — that of the old self, or as Mendez puts it, “me versus myself.” 

Choreographer Adele Myers will present “The Stage Show” May 9-10 at MDC’s Live Arts Lab. Photo courtesy Liliana Mora.

Adele Myers, the event’s third choreographer, describes her work, “The Stage Show,” as nothing less than “a live love story between performers and audience.” Her task, she says, “is to harness the mercurial energy of an audience.” Indeed, far from the carnival or the meditation seen in the work of the other women, Myers’ work is all about energy, with bursts of stunning athleticism. She refers to her dancers as “athletes of the heart.” 

Myers moved to Miami after years based with her company in the Northeast. Rather than missing the long-standing cultural institutions there, she describes being “electrified by the energy of Miami.”

This work, more modest in scope than much of Myers’ previous choreography, uses all that energy as well as her trademark humor to zero in with the audience on questions related to support systems. “What are our expectations for each other?” her choreography asks. “What does it mean to support one another?” It’s hard to imagine a more timely question. 

“Tropical Depression,” “Laborers” and “The Stage Show” will performed 8 p.m. May 9-10 at Live Arts Lab, 300 NE Second Ave., in Miami. Tickets cost $10. Go to MDCLiveArts.org.

Top photo: Choreographer Rosie Herrera’s “Tropical Depression” is an emotionally demanding, highly theatrical work. Photo courtesy Herrera.

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