by Lew Whittington for The Dance Journal
Venezuelan choreographer David Zambrano’s Soul Project proved one of the hotter ‘curated’ shows in the final weekend of the Fringe Festival weekend. Zambrano, based in the Netherlands, brought six performers from his pool of 13 dancers who have been performing the piece since 2010 at festivals, colleges and theaters. So popular in fact that the choreographer has toured ‘guerilla versions’ in some 50 remote villages on several continents.
The concept of the work, as noted in the program, is that the Zambrano was so inspired by the vocal artistry of soul music that he wants his dancers to express “a body language so full, eloquent and emotionally profound.”
In Philly, Zambrano charmed the audience, in red and white stripped tails on the cobblestones in front of Neighborhood House venue, to prep the audience to move in close to the dancers to unblock the energy between the dancers and viewers. Suddenly the voice of dancer Edivaldo Ernesto interrupts with he yells ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’ as he lurches forward in limb-twisting cryptic dance expressionism, done with a wink.
We then scurried up to the venue’s main arena on the fourth floor, streaming in as Ike and Tina Turner’s lacerating version of Otis Reading’s ‘Respect’ engulfed the room. The 20 or so soul and neo-soul tracks are mixed differently for each performance, so the dancers perform their solos, in a different order which shape shifts the performance every time out.
All of the dancers mingled among the crowd in a fabulously conceived collection of whimsical club couture by Mat Voorter and Pepa Martinez, which kept giving even when the dancing didn’t.
A funk number by James Brown thunders in and the crowd swirls round South Korean dancer Young Cool Park as performs a series of knotted postures and sculptured freezes as he to mugs to the audience. Later, he takes it to slam dancing riffs, hurling to the floor during Patti LaBelle’s shrieky “Over the Rainbow.” In both solos, Park releases his long blue-black hair as the dance climax.
Dancing Stevie Nicks’ Broadway belty version of ‘At Last’ Milan Herich (Slovakia/Belgium) bare-chested in a Scheherazade pants, performed a more structured piece, executing whimsical and muscled dance acrobatics fueled with his untamed sensuality, immediacy, and snarky virtuosity. Later, dancing to a French torch song, Herich performed a sizzling neuvo flamenco flashdance, punctuated with dramatic matador poses.
The only woman in the troupe, Nina Fajdiga, from Slovenia, in a wooly jumper peppered with multicolored dots and incongruous grass skirt. Fajdiga seems to be in electro-shock convulsions to the base line of the music (I forget which song) as she pitches herself to the floor, grabs her tongue as her body continues speaking in tongues. Later, Fajdiga looked serene as she swayed among the crowd to Aretha.
Horacio Macuacua (Mozambique/Spain), performed the longest solo that began his raging, tormented movement to the spiritual ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and segued in Gladys Knight’s medley “I Will Survive/Free Again” medley which the dancer turned into a dance manifesto, breaking through with fits of twirling, swooping and liberated radiance, his silk floral flaring strategically, before he resorted to more graphic gestures circa Madonna 1991.
Zambrano gave a peak into his own movement style with his minimal interpretation of Jennifer Holiday’s Dreamgirls aria ‘I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going’ in that kid circus outfit, contrasts Holiday’s desperate vocal with his micro- moves that are both witty and highly theatrical.
In an all too brief reappearance Edivaldo Ernesto, who now was donning a platinum shaggy dog wig and lace opera gloves danced to the spiritual soul classic with much more lyrical expression than his first piece, but, only brought along a handful of dance moves.
Also rather thin is acrobatic-dancer Peter Jasko performance of knotted acrobatics that release in painful looking flops and extreme contortions. It hinted at a primal dance scream of body oppression (hints of Petrouska) but instead, Jasko just made it a series of tricky postures.
The highlight of evening was the group dance to Aretha Franklin’s 70s propulsive gospel hit “Spirit in the Dark” the highlight of the evening in which the dancers scattered around the room and just let their bodies groove and even cued some audience bopping.
Soul Project connected to this audience because of the up close intensity of the dancers ‘ raw energy and unfiltered content. Zambrano’s compelling techniques used in the piece- called ‘passing through’ and ‘flying low’- part of his transformational aesthetic meant to release a dancer’s hidden artistry, nonetheless allow self-conscious performance moments that is perhaps considered an essential dynamic – so it comes to taste. But to this eye, those moments were deflating and at 70 minutes, Soul Project, however intimate, strikes as a missed opportunity to see something more substantive from such inventive and passionate dancers.