A lot can be said about luna del pingüino, but above all, there is this: It works. Constantly surprising, interactive, and gently transgressive, bursting with smiles even at its most unsettling, ready to face today's serious moral challenges but readier still to entertain, it is a one-man show but also a huge multimedia spectacle that fuses avant-garde video with nonlinear drama and the best and sweetest of American modern dance. It boasts classic song at its most vulnerable, a megamix of rap innocent of hip-hop, and insistent rhythms that are stripped bare and stay hot.
It is about everything from penguins to terrorists, about global warming, about the Holocaust and the upcoming election, about making dances, about life. It played to a packed house at FIU's VH100 Black Box theater on the anniversary of September 11, and perhaps it was too much. It is unruly and, as directed by Jorge Guerra, luna del pingüino wants tightening in both steps and script. Still, it is unforgettable. It is written, choreographed, and performed by Octavio Campos, and it is very, very good.
Keep an eye on this guy. Campos's weekend world-premiere run of luna del pingüino (Penguin Moon) was just the beginning of a multimedia work that, according to its producer Susan Caraballo of Artemis, already is poised to play in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as Berlin, Los Angeles, and Houston. It will doubtless return home for an encore victory run. In the meantime, Campos's next project, something called IPO, will sprawl all over the season in Miami, beginning this December at the Townhouse Hotel during Art Basel Miami Beach, and continuing in 2005 as part of the Miami Light Project's Here and Now Festival. His new company, Camposition, is just getting under way. There's even a swell Website, www.camposition.org, with the promise of more from this Miami native who has been away in Europe too long and is now back home and on the verge of becoming a major force on the cutting edge of South Florida's cultural scene.
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At FIU, luna del pingüino sat proudly on the fence between theater and modern dance, taking advantage of borders left unguarded by the canons of both fields. It is difficult and pointless to classify this creation or its creator. At the Black Box, Campos boasted high-tech video projections that came off like IMAX gone bonkers, and low-tech effects including hanging bags of ice to recreate the penguin's Antarctic habitat. An immensely likable performer, Campos in his moonscape boasts a buto master's patience and the insouciance of a French mime, Lipsynka's drag sensibility and the seriousness of Pina Bausch. He is a convert on a holy mission to please.
With a healthy blend of hope and chutzpah, Campos moves from a song by Gabriel Fauré to tunes by Ennio Morricone over a throbbing soundscape by loudmouthkitten. With none of the usual awkwardness that attends audience participation, he gets the men in attendance into a sort of synchronized nappy-folding exercise that ends up in a feast of erotic origami. Then he has the women create a dance of not-enough veils choreographed for the 72 virgins that a terrorist longs to meet at the gates of paradise. On his own, alone on stage, Campos dances and he talks. His gestures go from semaphoric to ritualistic and back again. At times he makes sense, but always he creates powerful images in motion.
Eclectic to the core and utterly resistant to easy labels, luna del pingüino brings to mind a rainbow of today's avant-garde: the work of Joe Goode in San Francisco or of Bill T. Jones in New York and Lyon, Angelin Preljocaj's unclassifiable Personne n'epouse les meduses in Paris, or Cecilie Ore's antiwar dance-opera A in Oslo. These and other gems are worth mentioning not only to note that Campos's work is at least potentially very much in the same league, but perhaps most important because they are not what audiences usually have a chance to witness in South Florida.
Campos is a gift. This year's season is young, but it's safe to bet there is nothing on the horizon quite like luna del pingüino. That may be the best news of all when it comes to Octavio Campos. He's here and he's brilliant, he's unpredictable, and he's worth getting to know better.