Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between David Zambrano’s dancers’ performance at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse on Friday night and a really good dance club – or at least the way I remember the good clubs. Zambrano’s dancers roamed a dark room filled with people checking them out, erupting into fountains and explosions of energy as the music moved them, fabulously eccentric and wearing fabulously inventive/eccentric outfits. The Miami Light Project has emphasized interactivity and community connection in performances at their first season at their new Wynwood space. This hasn’t always worked so well, with earnest intentions and interactive concept sometimes outweighing the artistic experience (Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Symphony for the Dancefloor). But when it does work, as with Zambrano’s performance, it’s exhilarating and transformative. There were a number of young performers at Friday’s show; one dancer was so overcome she wept, and several were returning Saturday to get another dose of creative energetic juice.
The intensity and integrity of the dancers’ improvisations were what took Soul Project over the top. The set-up was not that radical (given the high concept stuff that’s radical in the dance/performance world these days): dancers roamed the room with the audience, improvising when they wanted. They knew it would be a selection of deep soul tracks – on Friday these included gut-wrenching goodies like Gladys Knight doing I Will Survive, Aretha Franklin singing Spirit In The Dark, Bola de Nieve singing Be Careful, It’s My Heart, Irma Thomas singing I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, and Ike and Tina Turner doing Respect but they didn’t know which or in what order (but then, that’s the way it works at a dance club). We the audience followed, swirled and circled around the dancers as each one did his or her (just one her) thing (which reminded me of early hiphop clubs, when you’d get circular pools of people surrounding the best break dancers.) We smiled at the dancers and at each other, and everyone felt in on the experience, in on the disorientation and the fun of the night. “Can we join in?” asked one person of Zambrano as he gave a brief introduction (no tripping the dancers). “I can already tell this is a very exciting public,” he said, smiling.
But oh, those dancers. Zambrano, whom I remember in the 80’s as a sleek, darting blade of a dancer, loose and fast and intently directed as a whip, is thicker and has a tufted beard and head of hair. He now lives in Amsterdamn and teaches dance around the world. He’s revered as a teacher, and the intensity and originality with which his people move shows why. The six dancers in addition to Zambrano (who's Venezuelan) were from Mozambique, Slovenia, Slovakia and South Korea, an intriguing range of physical types. They were fearless, not just physically – dives to the floor – but in their willingness to follow their impulses and their bodies to any extreme. My favorites were Edivaldo Ernesto of Mozambique (very slim, his dark skin highlighted by white lace and gloves and an enormous white wig – the fabulous costumes were by Mat Voorter), teeth chattering, howling like he was giving birth, slip-sliding from sinuous elegance to whipping himself into contorted knots. Horacio Macuacua, also from Mozambique, had a jacket decorated with flattened bottle caps (like some army uniform encrusted with trash medals) and skirt on his short, burly frame – he was like a bomb always threatening to explode, vibrating, screaming, like he was reincarnating Aretha’s agony in his gut. And I loved polka-dot and straw-skirted Nina Fajdiga’s cool, a smile always hovering on her face, skittering, limbs swinging wildly, then freezing suddenly, hovering on half releve as if searching for what to do next. At one point Fajdiga was inches away, her fingers curling next to my face as if she had an urgent message to convey.
The experience felt tribal, with these dancers possessed, their bodies speaking in tongues. By the end, all of them were dancing at once, and so was much of the ‘audience’. Not so different from a club, but more so.
David Zambrano summons the spirit in The Soul Project