Rosie Herrera's Pity Party and Drowning Deliver Tears and Laughter

Liony Garcia is a mess. He's collapsed with his head down on a table, his eyes brimming with tears. The song "Cheer Up Charlie" from Willy Wonka taunts him. Standing behind him in an elegant suit, Octavio Campos pulls a roll of Scotch tape from his jacket pocket, yanks Garcia up by the hair, then tapes his eyelid and eye brow into a raised position. "Don't you know your smile/has always been my sunshine," the song asks while Campos sticks a finger in Garcia's mouth, then applies another strip of tape from the corner of his mouth, across his ear, to his opposite cheek. Garcia keeps crying. Campos keeps taping. Soon Garcia's face is a grotesque smiley face wracked in pain.

That is the perfect image for Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre's "Pity Party," a new work by the 27-year-old, Miami-based choreographer that premiered at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater last night. The audience was hard-pressed to distinguish the laughter from the

tears.

Rosie Herrera Dance Company
Rosie Herrera Dance Company

Campos dominated the first three numbers: the crowd laughed as he

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pretended not to be able to get his microphone to work; laughed harder

when he deadpanned heartbreak while singing the campy Spanish ballad 

"Un Año de Amor" (A Year of Love); and guffawed when he went over the

top to proclaim his unrequited love to unsuspecting audience member Rob,

"from Pembroke Pines," during a rendition of "Total Eclipse of the

Heart."

Rob was game to sing the chorus and even seemed willing to be

dragged to the center of the stage, but his obvious discomfort when

Campos pinned him against the wall and pressed his body against him

pushed the humor into Herrera's favorite zone: the point where the joke

is about to go desperately wrong.  

After the rest of the dancers pulled Campos away, Rob escaped back to

his seat before the bit hit Herrera's second-favorite zone: where the

joke has turned cruel and smiles dissolve into tears.

This contradiction is difficult to maintain. The show was punctuated

with brilliant moments like Garcia's Scotch tape grimace and a doll play

where a dancer squeezes water out of a jilted Barbie's ears to the tune

of Lesley Gore's "It's My Party." The piece as a whole dragged, as

Herrera explored this dynamic over and over again.

By the time the

dancers froze in a final tableaux, carefully posed and staring straight

ahead for what felt like at least the third time, the act of watching

even the most expressive faces morph from tragedy to shock to ecstasy

had grown a little weary.

Then the lights went out and came on again,

and the dancers carried onstage the table and chairs we'd already seen

in early "Pity Party" birthday celebrations. Hopefully, this is the

beginning of a long life for "Pity Party." With a little bit of editing,

Herrera will make her point more powerfully still.

The proof is in Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret. An older piece,

Drowning has been honed to perfection. Three numbers are already

legendary: Gerardo "Geraldine" Pilatti's grimacing recreation of Kate Winslet on the bow in The

Titanic reached sublime heights of drag; Ana Mendez's sex doll turned

cake rape victim had the audience squirming; as did Liony Garcia and

Rudi Goblen's date rape duet. In Drowning, Herrera reveals the

contradiction of sexual pleasure and violence. And she makes sure the

audience is left basking in the pleasure.

-- Celeste Fraser Delgado of Artburstmiami.com

Photos by Seth Browarnik, WorldRedEye.com
Photos by Seth Browarnik, WorldRedEye.com
Courtesy of the Adrienne Arsht Center

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