The commissioned dances for Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens’ Casa Kinetic: Contemporary Dance Collective transformed each of the sites that inspired the choreography. The emptied Art Gallery just inside the central courtyard became a struggling lovers’ loft in The Assembly’s Brusque. Megan Goldstein of OC Ballet Theater evoked 1927, the year Casa Romantica was built, in the tiled Beehive Hearth. And Helios Dance Theater made the Ocean Terrace into a craggy cliff of ancient Greece where alluring Sirens crawl. Or so it seemed in OC’s Spanish Village By the Sea last month.
Lasting from sunset to dark, the shifting light lit the dancers and sparked the imagination. With more than one site-specific piece to see, you know the spectators are going to be on the move. A fact that juices up the atmosphere, giving audiences a little taste of performance jitters, but it also demands crafty people-moving. With only one big glitch, the logistics came off beautifully.
Group A began in the Art Gallery, where you enter into the center of a long, narrow space—where the net would be on a tennis court. Seating was provided at the far ends, with one dancer positioned in each half. They wore old, worn T-shirts, as if this was a couple long together, inhabiting their loft. But the dance was marred by latecomers, who clattered in on high heels to stand right where the two dancers were playing peek-a-boo. These unescorted ladies decided to make a move, with no regard to dancer safety, at last settling down.
To their credit, the dancers never lost concentration, executing the pas de deux with attack taking precedence over perfection, fueled by both tension and tenderness. Sometimes they’d dance so close to the spectators that you’d lose sight of two distinct people, then they’d separate and come together again in the far space, allowing you to see their reactions to each touch and rending apart. By the piece’s end, I was convinced they still loved each other deeply but a breakup was imminent.
Goldstein contained her Travis Wall-choreographed What Is This to fit within the small square of the Beehive Hearth. Her back rippled like liquid one moment, then her whole body knifed into an arabesque with the speed of an iron chef’s chop. The music had a scratchy overlay that evoked a 78 spinning on a Victrola. As I watched, I began to imagine she lived at Casa Romantica back in the 1920s, and that such was her talent, she should have been an international star but her father kept her locked up within the confines of the mansion grounds. The only anomaly to my fantasy was her filthy socks…. Goldstein, clad in red with a tight bun that made her look as if she could step into a Carlos Saura flamenco film, is a remarkable dancer, possessing talent, line and technique well beyond her 15 years.
Group A’s final stop for the site-specific dances was the Ocean Terrace, with the sea below glowing in the fading light. Helios Dance Theater’s Tidal began just as a helicopter obliterated the music, which at first sounded like actual wind chimes. The dancers crept in, somehow summoning Sirens as well as the rocks over which they crept. Their hands bent at steep angles into silhouetted bird heads, making them resemble the Sirens once Persephone’s mother gave them wings, the better to search for her abducted daughter. The dance was mysterious, yet playful, executed with gender-defying strength and grace, with choreographic detail made manifest from fingers and toes to the architecture to the vista beyond the playing space.
During intermission, the audience came together in the Main Salon, where the sight lines were awful—except for the first row, you couldn’t see the dancers below the waist— but no one cared. It’s not a theater. The atmosphere was of an artists’ salon in the home of a wealthy patron.
The Assembly’s piece had no cohesion, in movement or costumes, and the loud thudding of their steps and landings was off-putting. Their best moment was consciously using the three arches while seeing the audience, as if the “you” in the title, Wherever You Are, This One’s For You, was the spectators.
OC Ballet Theater’s pieces were wonderful, while Helios’ duets that make up Minor Obsessions were as fierce as promised. Full of humor, erotic content and death-defying tricks—as if the dancers were Olympic-level pairs figure skaters. Still in their Siren costumes, the notion occurred to me that we were witnessing what those mythological creatures get up to with the sailors they capture before their victims perished. The Helios dancers are spectacular, loving what they do with their mad skills.
The evening was a treat, thanks to the sites coming to life and Casa Romantica’s desire to bring original, high-quality art to South County. Next up is an installation in June of more than 8,000 blooms, bringing art and horticulture together with the help of lots of green-thumbed volunteers. Can’t wait!