While José Navas’ Compagnie Flak has been around since 1995, I had never actually seen the company perform, although I had seen Navas himself in a solo show and some of his dancers in pieces by other choreographers. So it was with great curiosity that I attended Navas’ latest creation, Adela, Mi Amor, which features his choreography for Flak, though without him as a performer.
Adela, Mi Amor is inspired by the play The House of Bernarda Alba by Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. The title of Navas’ work derives from the name of Bernarda’s youngest daughter, Adela. In the play, Adela, unlike her equally unhappy sisters, resists the domestic confinement imposed by her mother, first by taking a secret lover and then by committing suicide. The plot of Lorca’s play is not so important to Navas’ piece as is the idea of Adela as passion that will find liberation from social and familial repression even if death is the only way out. While the dancers in this production (Johanna Bienaise, Hannah Lagerway, Nancy Leduc, Anne Le Beau, Magali Stoll, Jamie Wright) match up in number with Bernada and her five daughters, in Navas’ choreographic interpretation all the dancers are meant to collectively express the emotional battle played out within Adela’s psyche.
The piece opens silently with a young, dark-haired woman standing alone on the verge of emotional and physical collapse. Another dancer (who in the murky light looks eerily like her double) comes up from behind. They tenderly embrace and kiss until a loud crash leaves the first woman alone; a quickly pulsating electronic score then sets her off into highly frenetic movement.
These same two women from the opening will, near the end of the piece, provide the most dramatic images of Adela’s anger and defiance. One—dressed in a suit (which eventually comes apart)—stalks to the front of the stage over and over again, determined to stay her ground, though unseen forces keep forcing her to scuttle back. The other reappears walking regally in a voluminous red dress and muttering to herself; after reclining on the floor and absentmindedly smoking cigarette after cigarette, she pulls herself up by her hair while harshly swearing at an unseen person. Surrounding these theatrical bits is enough choreographic meat to not only support the emotional content of the theme but also to enjoy as pure dance.
Throughout the piece, Flak’s dancers maintain a sense of underlying technique. I couldn’t help but think that Navas’ training with Merce Cunningham is an influence here. The steps are for the most part demanding and precise. While the dancers have plenty of opportunities to perform amorphous movement at their own rhythm, form always reasserts itself. A good example is the second section in which three pairs of dancers, in their own way and at their own pace, grasp hands and twine their bodies in and out of each other’s encircling arms; before too long, however, all three begin to move in time together through more definitive shapes.
Such nearly imperceptible transitions between dancers moving individually to dancers all moving in unison are found in other sections as well. Navas often uses simultaneous solos with lines of duos and trios that smoothly interweave with one another, forming ever-changing symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns that please the eye. The last section is especially packed with dancers joining in or dropping out without a trace; the resulting momentum keeps the otherwise clear and highly organized configurations from ever getting static or boring.
Marc Parent’s lighting, particularly on the floor—for instance, diagonal spots of light staggered in front of hanging red panels in one section and small rectangles of lights during another—complements Navas’ spatial patterning; the green square of light outlining the stage re-enforces Adela’s feeling of confinement. Likewise, the original music by Michel F. Côté effectively underscores Adela’s driving passion as well as suggests the forces from without that seek to imprison it.
All these production elements combined with the choreography really come together in the striking last image of the piece. While five of the women stand spread out across the stage staring forward, behind them a naked Adela stretches out on the ground. Yet, in this final moment of death (which is also a kind of rebirth), she isn’t just collapsed in a puddle but instead is in a lovely, but powerful Graham-like contraction. With her lower back still pinned on the floor, her head, arms and legs are lifted almost gracefully, as if she will somehow manage to float upwards and away despite everything. I was struck by Navas’ choice to place this final portrait of a partly obscured Adela upstage and to the side instead of front and centre: the tableau has a subtlety that filled the theatre with an emotional resonance it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Navas’ attention to the body’s form and to the overall structure of the choreography seems to be a sign of a rather conventional approach to dance and so feels almost at odds with the thematic inspiration of the piece itself. To a degree, the idea of Adela is about escaping convention. Yet Navas, like the playwright who inspired him, evidently feels that one doesn’t have to abandon craft in order to express the power of unleashed passion. How refreshing.
Adela, Mi Amor runs February 3–7 and 10–14 at 8 pm at Le Studio de L’Agora de la Danse, 840 Cherrier Street, Montreal. Box office: (514) 525-1500.
Kena Herod is the dance critic for Maisonneuve Magazine. Read her examination of the career of the great twentieth-century choreographer George Balanchine (“How to Follow Mr. B?”) in Issue 9, on newsstands now. The Dance Scene appears every other Tuesday.