PIFA REVIEW: Miro Dance Theatre’s PUNCHApr 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: Archived Articles
Photograph and review by Kilian Kröll for The Dance Journal
For a second, an industrial lamp suspended from the ceiling flickers on and hums. And so opens Miro Dance Theatre’s PUNCH at the Kimmel Center’s Innovation Studio, two stories below the ground. What follows is a post-modern mash-up of themes and images inspired by Pulcinella, the archetypal trickster most well known in the world of dance by Stravinsky’s ballet of the same name.
Four dancers collectively embody this obscure, bawdy, funny and hypersexual creature, which makes faces, lays hard boiled eggs, slobbers on audience members, humps everything that moves, gets into fights, and passes around money baskets in between numbers. The strategically placed, intermittent balletic beauty of the choreography at times elevates the Punch character to a kind of “noble savage,” but mostly the audience sees creatures unpredictable in their timing and demeanor. The best clown among the company members, Paul Struck, takes the cake. Two little boys clean up the mess.
Artistic director, Amanda Miller, who is on stage herself, choreographs a controlled dance, set to a focused and highly compatible score by sound artist Zeena Perkins, who has come a long way since playing the harp for Björk in the early 90s. The segmented musical vignettes of vocal sounds, spoon percussion, string quartets, timpani and electronic mish-mash maintain the tension set up by the dancers, between humorous pleasantries and grotesque grossness.
Miller’s intimate collaboration with visual designer and co-director, Tobin Rothlein, adds historical layers that are both past and the future oriented. Renaissance images by Hieronymus Bosch flit about: little creatures with nothing but a face, birds swallowing humans, naked men with instruments up their butts. In this case, Rothlein creates tablet screens, which the dancers use to exaggerate their eyes and mouths, at times contorting their coral-colored hoodies to create futuristic screen-faced puppets. Maggie Baker’s costumes work wonders in this context; while James Clotfelder’s lighting and production design pull all the visual elements into an easily watchable flickering menace.
Not coincidentally, Miro’s production comes as a direct response to the Pennsylvania Ballet’s most recent production of Pulcinella at the Academy of Music, both part of the Philadelphia International Festival for the Arts. In the intimate setting of PUNCH, the creaturely nature of the audience itself becomes apparent, so much so that the eews and giggles coming from the second row truly rival the contortions on stage. This is not your typical ballet audience, nor is this a typical ballet. In fact, the physical interaction with the audience pushes at the limits of social acceptability to communicate certain truths about the human culture of our time.
What exactly these truths are remains open to interpretation. How our contemporary society individualistically consumes pleasure and uses hand-held devices as narcissistic avatars might be what PUNCH attempts to critique. But the hour-long piece is also wrapped up in the mode of contemporary communication – everything extreme, in bite sizes, with lots of naked flesh – that it becomes self-referential. What big truth could possibly be revealed in this post-modern depiction of medieval farce? The answer to that might be that post-modern dance has reached a limit, as much as it has gone mainstream.