Inspired by the writing of Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, and in particular his most political dramatic work “La casa de Bernarda Alba”, José Navas finds common ground with the playwright in that he wanted to respond to what he calls the “non-dance” that he sees produced in the Québec milieu. What’s he’s created with his newest work, “Adela, Mi Amor”, at its very core, is a dance work celebrating movement. The body in movement inspires him, captivates him and energizes him.
Adela, in Lorca’s play, is the youngest of Bernarda Alba’s five daughters. Oppressed by social convention, she eschews the expectations of a strict household, seeks a lover and finally commits suicide. Alba, the central figure, is a female representation of Spanish dictator Franco, and the play incisively targets the vengeful repressive regime. Navas uses the play as an influence, nothing more. His six dancers (Johanna Bienaise, Hannah Lagerway, Nancy Leduc, Anne Le Beau, Magali Stoll, Jamie Wright) correspond in number to the Alba clan, but that is as literal as the connections get.
The piece opens simply enough: a lone woman (Le Beau) appears on stage, looking somewhat forlorn. Another woman (Leduc) joins her, and they share a mildly passionate kiss. The sound of electronica — created by music wizard Michel F. Côté — explodes, and the first woman goes limp, collapsing in a heap.
The stage is ringed floor to ceiling with dark curtains and the perimeter is circumscribed by a luminescent green border. The dancers enter one by one. The women of “Adela” are all dressed (by Vandal) in simple coloured shirts — in registers of blue, purple, green, yellow, red — and short shorts. Navas instantly conjures images of sensuality with the white legs and the coloured tops that unite and mingle. Particularly in the first minutes of the work, as the dancers dart on and off the stage creating new pairings, it’s like watching lozenges of colour dissolving into one another.
Of course, “Adela” is a departure from earlier works in which Navas has always performed — and it is a piece created for six women. The full-bodied physicality that Navas has chosen for the piece is pure electricity: the dancers spark off one another, cut through space and travel at a rapid pace. Their quick articulate bodies slice pirouettes and pound the air, humming with a live current. We witness inspiration and discovery unfolding in the moment. The execution is impressive and reveals dancers who are quick, luscious and fragile; they display a phenomenal degree of technical skill and subtlety of expression.
Navas’ dance has always invested in abstract emotions that come from a place inside. In the past, watching his work has been less about narrative meaning and more about compositional endeavors and a heightened theatricality. The thrust of “Adela” with its precise vocabulary seems more insistent — his typical geometric questioning seems more urgent, as if the choreography is pushing him to something more expressive. Whatever he is trying to say, the energy he’s creating is bursting with references that show off technique and the different styles he has in his body. Born in Venezuela, Navas migrated first to New York City to study at the Merce Cunningham school and immersed himself in the downtown dance scene. He worked with David Zambrano’s release method, Randy Warshaw’s organic risky approach to movement, and Stephen Petronio’s energetic funky dance work of the time — essentially all styles where the physicality drives the work on stage. It’s clear that in this work, his thinking and his movement ideas have been deeply influenced by his range of experience.
While Lorca was full frontal is exposing the frustration of female sexuality, Navas is delving into something more instinctive: the vital connection that occurs when dancers meet on stage. Aided and abetted by lighting designer Marc Parent, the verticality of the work, evident in the dancers’ postures, is heightened by simultaneously fracturing the space with the mass of bodies travelling on the horizontal. At the same time, Navas is moving beyond just a formal appreciation of beauty and elegance. He’s looking for something more forceful: the power of feminine energy. If Lorca portrayed the tyrannical “madre” — representing the repressive regime — Navas is happy to have people remark upon what he whimsically refers to as the “abundance of testosterone on stage”.
In the same way that Cunningham gives independence to his collaborators, Navas has given musician and composer Côté the liberty to develop a palette of possibilities. If the dancing excites, his music and sound invention exhilarates. He is seated in front of the audience, facing the dancers, with his arsenal of keyboard and instruments at his disposal. It’s thrilling to watch Côté in sync with the action on stage. At times it appears he’s even goading them on, with horn toots and sound manipulation. Taking our eyes away from the stage, we witness Côté totally in the groove and at the top of his game, his body twisting and turning, as actively involved physically and mentally as the performers on stage. In the end, which builds to a fever pitch of dancing, the production falters only in the more theatrical moments — the ones requiring acting. For instance, Le Beau stands facing the audience in a long red dress, whispering and finally erupting into a litany of shouted profanity. Leduc also has a dramatic moment in which she laughs hysterically for a good few minutes; it just doesn’t work because it doesn’t ring true. While Navas claims he’s over theatrical interventions, these trifling swings ensnare “Adela”.
A major international co-production (with the Cultuur Centrum Brugge in Belgium, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Götenborg Dance and Theatre Festival in Sweden, Danceworks UK in Sheffield, England, the Banff Centre for the Arts, l’Agora de la danse, and l’Office Artistique de la Région Aquitaine in France), “Adela, Mi Amor” was fashioned with a mission of sorts: the recovery of movement as the focus for investigation and as design in space. Creating a kinetic piece was his stated task, and Navas fulfills that promise in spades, making dance that explodes from within and a work that provokes ideas and discussion.