"Flamingos are very sexy," says Paulo Manso de Sousa. "They're very vain. They're very into themselves," he adds, as if describing South Beach models or snobbish ballerinas. Clearly Manso, who's delved into a multitude of roles as an actor, dancer, teacher, and choreographer since leaving the Miami City Ballet five years ago, has studied these long-legged creatures at length for his latest creation, Flocking Flamingos.
His group, MansoDance, is one of many performing during the New Year's Eve extravaganza First Night Miami Beach. MansoDance's contribution to the seven-hour smorgasbord of theater, music, and dance likely will stand out. Why? One, a dozen or so humans will be dressed as the bright pink birds. Two, they'll be running loose outside. Three -- what, you need more reasons?
The graceful animals' lithe and slinky movements will be accented by futuristic abstract costumes designed by Jorge Gallardo, whose extensive résumé includes stagewear for companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Biarritz of France, and the Royal Swedish Ballet. Manso's description weaves an image of pink Egyptian-style wigs; triangular feathers cut from colorful plastic and sewn on to T-shirt-like tops; yellow swim goggles for eyes; and of course, beaks. Can't picture it? Sneak a peak at Gallardo's fashions on mannequins in the display windows of the Miami Beach Burdines this weekend. On Saturday Manso's dancers will take over the windows themselves for a little mannequin/flamingo interaction.
The performance itself, which Manso prefers to call street choreography, will use Lincoln Road, with its grassy patches, illuminated palm trees, and architectural details, as the setting for his elegant avians (dancers from the New World School of the Arts, where he teaches) to inhabit their winged personas. But don't count on feeding the flock. "As soon as you get close to them, they move away," says Manso. Following this skittish colony, he adds, will be a tourist character clad in pink to add a bit of existential angst to the mix: Is he a flamingo who thinks he's a human, or a human who thinks he's a flamingo?
It's all meant to demonstrate the mysterious tension that exists between people and animals, such as in a zoo setting, and by extension, one supposes, between audiences and artists as well. As Manso observes, "After a while you don't know if you're watching them or they're watching you."