Performing Arts: Dance
  Mark DeGarmo Dance: LAS FRIDAS
November 10, 2019
Las Fridas was advertised as a dance-theatre duet inspired by painter and revolutionary, Frida Kahlo. The publicity flyers showcased an image consisting of a harmonic duet composition where Mark DeGarmo and dancer-actor, Marie Baker-Lee, appear against a sunny outdoor set insinuating Frida’s Casa Azul (blue house). The show was hosted in a room on the third floor of The Clemente Center an intimate space hosting about 20 patrons. The set consisted of a window flanked by blue wooden folding screens surrounded by plant pots and a wooden bench center stage.

Two figures emerged from behind the set, a woman dressed in a Mexican traditional autochthonous embroidered dress, and a man in a tarnished black suit. With a wondering gaze, the couple approached the bench and sat side by side. They leaned on each other initiating an interplay of hand contact while a projection of a mature woman’s hands appeared on the window. Apparently, the concept for this scene was inspired by Frida’s painting depicting two women sitting side by side. Initially, the production was meant to be interpreted by two women. However, as explained in the program, due to a sudden illness, the woman accompanying Baker-Lee, was assumed by DeGarmo, intending a gender-fluid perspective.

If the performance had concluded with this first scene, there would have been more coherence with its intention as a “love letter to Mexico” and a homage to the mature women in DeGarmo’s life. However, the plot departed abruptly through a convoluted series of 15 sections, that oscillated from grim to dark through murky movement aggravated by a consistent overuse of force, beyond the parameters of improvisation.

The conflicting evening escalated in the sensory challenges it presented. Long sections of the actors’ screaming, throwing a plethora of fabric around the space was followed by aggressive mimicry accompanying the sound of wild animals and puzzling interactions utilizing plastic skulls, a black toy cat, rope, and huge artificial flowers as props.

These sections were intermingled with traditional dancing motifs prompted by popular Mexican songs by artists uncredited in the program. As the scenes progressed, the projection on the window changed to show a woman’s bunioned feet moving in an unkempt bathtub, transitioning to a digital image of fire until the end of the show.

The evening closed with a repetition of the first scene shifting the actors’ front to face the set with their back to the audience. Immediately after the bow, the hosts asked the audience to leave the space promptly to meet the actors in the hallway, allowing eager patrons to approach the artists to ask questions about their intent, engaging in appreciative conversations. However, other patrons left questioning the violence, screaming, and bizarre props, arguing the program’s pertinence to physical theatre rather than dance-theatre.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gabriela Estrada

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