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Hips sway: Mimulus at Jacob’s Pillow.

Photo: Ben Rudick

The Flower of Creativity

By French Clements


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, Mass., Aug. 1

Just when you thought all the good dance steps had been invented, along comes one that reminds you how many options remain. Imagine a man and woman in a gentle kind of partner dance, hips swaying affably. When they round a banked turn, the guy raises his right foot, and, saints be praised, not only is the girl standing on that upturned foot, she’s easily doing a full spin on it, three feet in the air. The two are cantilevered for a tiny, centrifugal moment before she slides back onto the floor and they twirl onward. But everything seems changed, and you want to see that step again and again.

To the credit of choreographer Jomar Mesquita, you don’t get to see the step again, at least not during the piece itself, Dolores, shown in the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow last week. You must wait until the encore, a raucous dessert for its audiences. By that point, you’re delighted, because the above step is just one symptom of a pathologically fertile imagination, and scandalized, because Dolores is based on the films of Pedro Almodóvar. On Mesquita’s stage, as on Almodóvar’s celluloid, women make out, men grab men’s butts, and ambiguity rules. In both directors’ work, there’s a wealth of pathos in reminding us how easily we reduce to a collection of genitalia, frustration, and little daily joys. Whether or not Mesquita conveys this subtly (and he usually does), he’s constantly, cinematically, creative about it.

In most ways, Mimulus is an unusual dance company. The group is an offshoot of its samba school, one of hundreds of such centers in Brazil, where the company is based in Belo Horizonte, just inland from Rio de Janeiro. Given the group’s origins, its steps are often recognizable as social dance, but Mesquita, apparently without much modern dance training, weaves in irregularities that stand with the best in contemporary choreography. The scenic designer, Ed Andrade, is a practicing architect, and fashions enormous, visionary sets that move and evolve, not unlike the characters they surround. The costumes, designed by Baby Mesquita (director of the Mimulus Dance School and mother to the choreographer), bear the luxury of couture. Their level of production demands touches such as contrasting fabric on a skirt’s underside—barely noticeable, but vital to the show’s rich feel. For the company’s performances of Do Lado Esquerdo de Quem Sobe at Jacob’s Pillow last year, audience members received plastic Mimulus baggies upon entering the theater. At key moments, the dancers encouraged viewers to push out a samba beat using the bags. The rhythm of Brazil filled your ears, and you had a souvenir to remember the fun.

The Latin word Mimulus refers to a genus of flowers that, in homeopathy, are used to treat most fears, so long as the fear is nameable. In Spanish, “dolores” means “pains.” Given the sadness with which petite Nayane Diniz opens the work, she could use more Mimulus for her dolores. With the sound turned way down, Caetano Veloso sings “Cucurrucucú Paloma” (made popular by Almodóvar’s Talk to Her) while Diniz wanders on in a gentle spin, arms outstretched. As the volume slowly comes up, so do the lights, and Diniz is still spinning, seemingly beyond consolation. The action is mildly obscured by hundreds of black threads running vertically from the stage’s foot. When a couple comes on for a little groove—who knew hips moved so far sideways?—Diniz is still turning. A few minutes later, she’s starting to enjoy it, running fingers wildly through her hair with a little grin. The more she draws it out, the more you grin too. In an instant, she emits a shriek and tears toward the hanging threads, stops short, and whirls off. Her 15-minute presence lends the opening a tonal continuity, almost like a narrator’s introduction. The threads also mimic cinema by rendering the images grainy, one degree removed from reality. Through repeated attempts to pierce this wall, these characters turn into humans, ready to escape. Later, one man grinds out his sweet, sweet love for a stage light on the floor. Poor guy, that’s all he knows.

Plenty more elements successfully pay tribute to Almodóvar’s blend of wacky domesticity and lurid nightlife, including dated, Spanish-only torch songs, a paparazzo flashing away, and minor bondage. Many women, overdressed, wear hair that’s just-out-of-the-shower damp. Their sequence manipulating red towels is sophisticated—the towels embody their eroticism—and inventively, stupidly, happy. Andrade’s towering screens, pocked with regular circles, occupy the stage’s back and take on blue, green or magenta pastels. At several tender moments, one screen glides behind another, and the patterns, morphing in and out of floweriness, recall the Moorish influence on Spanish design.

Less noticeably, Dolores refutes the stereotypes that pervade Latin music and dance. You know: the sexy, straight guy who knocks his sexpot ladies dead. The inability to address anything but hearts or passions. Though these clichés are here, Mesquita smartly reveals their goofy, personal truth. What’s more, he does this through dance—a famously tough stone in which to carve messages. How about an Almodóvar film on Mimulus?

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