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