Small Stage, Big Ideas

The latest edition of the Miami Light Project's signature commissioning program designed to nurture Miami-based artists, Here & Now 2005, is also its first co-production with the incipient Miami Performing Arts Center. Unveiled last week and continuing with a second program through Monday, March 28, at the Light Box, this unprecedented MLP-MPAC partnership serves up a delicious, varied feast of artistic collaborations, chutzpah-fueled aspirations, rough-edged stage adventures, and even a pitfall or two. It's a happy venture, already fascinating in its infancy, thrilling in its promise. As a preview of what will happen when the black-box Studio Theater at MPAC opens its doors in 2006 along with its two big houses, Here & Now whets the appetite.

The first program's main event last week was IPO: The Bored Room, a collaborative multimedia project by Octavio Campos, Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez, and Michelle Weinberg, directed by Campos. Also on the bill was Milhojas Separated, a new dance by Joanne Barrett. The second program, March 24 through 28, includes what promises to be a uniquely up-to-date take on tap dancing and life called What?!? by Ico Manzanero, alongside Natasha Tsakos's Up Wake -- billed as an all-night-clubbing, all-day-clowning, Saturday-morning-cartooning kind of piece -- topped by a trailer for Lisandro Perez-Rey's decidedly indie motion picture Boomtown Fever.

What kind of stuff is this? The Campos piece, for all its unruliness and lack of polish at this point, is without doubt one of the most original and exciting new dance or theater works seen in South Florida in recent memory. IPO feels like a work in progress, and that progress will be fascinating to watch. Milhojas Separated, on the other hand, seemed quite finished; it just didn't say much. Despite its generic, Modern Dance 101 sensibility, Barrett's piece carried more than a few lovely dance details suggesting that given the right direction there may yet be some new choreography just waiting to happen. And there is real talent here, all of it Miamian. It is good for the Miami audience to be in on this from the beginning.

IPO: The Bored Room is nothing if not ambitious. Big screens at either end of the Light Box were alight with a dizzying movie showing Campos running around town in what looked to be the start of desperate business deals. In the flesh, he sported a nifty How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying suit and tie as he spoke to the entry-level shareholders (the audience) and provided details of the meeting about to start. The public offering in question was art, and maybe even the artist. Everything and everyone, the script proclaimed, was for sale. Or at least for barter.

Eventually, of course, Campos changed from gray suit to leotard and donned his endangered-penguin persona; the large cast morphed from business associates to dancing and skating memos and faxes. A number of little drudging drones in a sweatshop behind the audience worked and worked, ironing clothes, serving drinks, taking donations. Audience members were asked to leave their cell phones on, not that the results were much different from a typical night at the theater in Miami. The actual music was a mad mix of techno and Henry Purcell -- his tragic "When I Am Laid in Earth" from the opera Dido and Aeneas vied for attention with a number about "How to Fuck Your Money." There was an audience sing-along at the end, a positively loopy, part Handel-part Monty Python chorus of thanks that went partly like this:

"Thank you!/for dulce de leche/Thank you! for burgers on a bun/Thank you!/for getting laid on Sunday/when the work week's done/Thank you!/for the Rockefellers/for the Guggenheim/for the big fat grant that's going to be mine!/Thank you!/for the South Beach Diet/for the sparkling sea/for the sweatshop workers that dress you and me."

There are echoes of Pina Bausch and especially of Sasha Waltz in Campos's choreography, which floats with a smile right over the frontier dividing theater and dance. There is also something uniquely his own at the heart of the Cuban-American choreographer's latest work. The breathless, timely criticisms of globalization, the one-size-fits-all irony, not to mention the exasperation at both making art without money and making money at any cost -- all of it rang true.

The dance solos were frankly not fully developed, but the groupings were terrific, and at least one duet was brilliant: Campos partnered a tiny child dancer called Maximo Pereyra-Weinberg, who was playing either an unfurling fax come to life or some sort of money sprite, and there was real joy in the performance as well as spontaneity in the choreography.

True, the premiere seemed under-rehearsed. More ringing cell phones should have been planted in the audience to add to the desired din behind the action, and the banter and running around by the entire cast wanted speed. Nonetheless Campos is the real deal.

Milhojas Separated was a trio for Barrett, Kristin O'Neal, and Ana Gonzalez, all tentative execution and hothouse invention. Amateur readings of bad poetry, an interesting music mix on tape, and clever use of the Light Box space were among the features of this dance, which seemed innocent of any developments in modern dance since 1960. Unexpected falls, sudden changes of speed, contact-improv exercises, and some girl-on-girl action didn't add up to much. But then there was a bright moment, a sort of swimming in place among tossed-around blue tiles, watched from afar. It was voyeuristic and captivating, fragrant of Florida swimming pools and swimmers, lovely.

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