New Oyster Cult

"What's the best performance you've seen in the last five years?" asked Michelle Heffner Hayes of her creative colleagues at a national conference of arts presenters. The executive director of the Cultural Affairs Department at Miami-Dade Community College was attempting to curate the Cultura del Lobo Performance Series for 2002-2003 -- which has been offering the community an eclectic array of theater, music, and dance for the past twelve years -- and just hadn't found what she was looking for. She knew one thing, though: "We wanted something beautiful and surreal, exquisite and challenging." Hence the tough query at the conference. Without hesitating, Joan Finkelstein of New York City's prestigious 92nd Street Y said, "Inbal Pinto from Israel." A couple of years, a war, and miles of red tape later, the modern dance troupe, which takes its exotic-sounding name from its 34-year-old female choreographer, is set to perform its award-winning piece Oyster for South Florida audiences this weekend.

Watching a performance of Oyster, choreographed by Pinto and directed by Avshalom Pollak, certainly leaves the audience asking its own questions: "Was that modern dance, ballet, mime, physical theater, gymnastics, or acrobatics?" The answer on all accounts may be an unequivocal "Yes!" The hour-long work has been described as falling somewhere between "a wild dream, a circus sideshow, and a Cubist painting." Attired in crazy costumes, dancers swing from bungee cords; jewelry-box ballerinas offer a pas de deux on a leash; two male dancers perform within an oversized coat on wheels; and a trio executes a mind-boggling pas de trois (including back bends) with their arms bound at their sides. What is so amazing about this company of six dancers and four actors is its technical excellence, which while astounding audiences, does nothing to overshadow the aesthetics of the performance. "They're really masterful technicians, who have managed to harness a vision that is unforgettably vivid and otherworldly," affirms Hayes.

Many have asked her if the Israeli troupe's artistic work is political. "What's interesting about this spectacle is that although the aesthetic is so surreal and skewed, the craft is extremely precise and controlled," Hayes notes. "When you come from a place where reality is so completely off the scale from anything one could consider normal, you have to find an anchor. Inbal Pinto seems to find that in technical precision." That sounds like a no to us. But perhaps the troupe's most political statement came just recently. "When the war began, we called to see if they still felt comfortable coming to the U.S.," explains Hayes. "They were more committed than ever. They said they wanted to perform for an audience that wasn't wearing gas masks."

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Mia Leonin