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Although the Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre has performed in NYC before, the company's appearance from August 4th to 6th 2016 as the second half of the American Dance Festival's first season in the Big Apple included the New York debut of Herrera's Carne Viva. The work was commissioned by ADF. Curiously, although the playbill lists four performers and three musical selections, on the evening of August 4th only three performers were on stage and only two musical selections were played. As a rule, I don't read other critics' reviews of works that I'm going to cover until after I've written my own opinions. In this case, however, I felt compelled to find out whether Carne Viva was truncated when I saw it. Sure enough, I found several references to the work as a "quartet" with comments about a female solo involving partial nudity and a laptop camera. That scene did not happen on August 4th. In addition, no announcement was made regarding the omission and no playbill inserts were provided to explain the change.

That said, the sections that I did see were compelling evocations of the complexities of human relationships. The first duet, by a man and woman, often relied on silence to allow the performers' breathiness to convey the physical demands of the choreography - especially when the man lifts the woman high above his head and holds her there for a very long time before sinking to his knees. Following this, the man exits as he tosses the woman into the arms of a second woman who has suddenly appeared. The two women - perhaps lovers, or perhaps jealous rivals - proceed to advance, retreat, entwine their bodies, and threaten one another with gestures that reminded me of the way two animals might interact. Then the entire piece was over. When the curtain fell and the stage lights went down, the audience was silent for a moment before applauding. I suspect I was not the only one who had been expecting more.

After the intermission, however, the pace and mood of the evening picked up considerably. Herrera's Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret, dating from 2009, is a multi-media romp that celebrates the choreographer's deliciously bizarre sense of humor tinged with melancholy. Memorable moments include a man who repeatedly sprays water on the woman seated across from him at a table for two. Whenever she is doused, she leaves and comes back in yet another gorgeous gown. (Herrera designed all the costumes.) While the man waits for his date's return, he occasionally stares at his phone and thumb types. The latter bit elicited appreciative laughter from theatergoers in this digital era.

Campy drag sequences were audience favorites as well. Another high point was the use of a larger-than-life projection of a film by Herrera and Adam Reign depicting the actual performers at first in a raft on roiling waters but later tossed overboard so that they had to swim in the depths. Herrera uses the water "as a metaphor for the unconscious" according to preliminary notes about the piece. The effect is riveting as part of this riotous dance theater work, richly deserving its reputation as a signature piece by Herrera, a multi-talented person who is also a lyric coloratura soprano.

For my history lesson on the American Dance Festival, which was founded at Bennington College in Vermont in 1934 and has been at Duke University in North Carolina since 1977, see my review of the first half of ADF's premiere NYC season.

Photo by Sara D. Davis

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