Fight night or last tango in the locker-room? Un Poyo Roja

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Johanna Austin

A healthy mix of dance and fight fans, gay and straight filled up the bleachers in the rustic brick performance space of Neighborhood House for the curated FringeArts dance rout called ‘Un Poyo Roja’ (translation- The Red Rooster) which has been touring for 10 years but still draws sell-out crowds. Argentinian dancer-actors, Luciano Rosso and Nicolás Poggi were warming up this audience from the shadows of a gym locker set, preparing for a marathon mashup of dance styles, pugilistic choreography, and homoerotic shenanigans.

Their dancers’ sinewy physiques were already sweat-drench from the warm-up shadowboxing, lotus postures, kung fu kicks, and lotus postures. After 15 minutes, they stood just a foot away from a sold-out crowd, not even breathing heavy, as they stared us down.

Then the dance bout begins with Rossi and Poggi in unison comic choreography, their bodies morphing to shapes and with moves that may have only been previously seen in manic characters in vintage animated cartoons. Looney Toons have nothing on this pair.

And then they start dance sparring with one-upmanship that dissolves into dancing amok. Their stream of dance conscious that just doesn’t let up – from Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ strut to disco twirls, not to mention jackhammer twerking. Just as suddenly there is ballet sparring, as Rossi freezes in third position attitude showing off his saber leg line through the arch as the toes sneak forward digit by digit to perfect position.  Both dancers vaulting around in half-executed ballet aerials for laughs. At one point, Poggi drops to the floor, his body folded over his legs, the ballerina absoluta ala Fokine’s ‘Dying Swan’ position then getting up and limps back to the bench.

Soon enough, the testosterone-fueled atmosphere of the locker room makes them retreat to macho status ready to be stunt boxer extras for Rocky. They wrestle in real-time and in slow motion. And the main event has them with their chests puffed, and their arms flailing in fury as though they are the cocks in a lethal cockfight.

That intimate fight choreography gives way to flash runway vogue circa 1992 ballroom, with too die for realness, major shade crouched prancing, and diva drops.

Midway through, they move over to the gym bench and Poggi preens in front of his locker mirror, playing with the radio, changing through the Philly AM channels. A completely improvised segment perhaps offers a needed breather.

Rosso tries to light a cigarette and gives up, then starts putting several in his mouth and lip-syncing to talk radio. The cigs dancing around his face until he eventually spits them out.  Poggi lights one up and suddenly Nicholas becomes the embodiment of his smoke, their bodies ebbing and flowing so close that it looks like spectral foreplay.

There are moments of bro-mantic jock play or perhaps they are just playing hard to get at the gym. There are mid-air chest bumps, ass grabbing, but still in the category of hetero-horseplay, no?  Draw your own conclusions, but things take a hilarious turn when they strip down to their skivvies and in another outtake from a roadrunner cartoon, they dress each other in wrestling togs while throwing each other around.

Suddenly their fists are up and in a boxing position but instead of bobbing and weaving, Nicholas starts to gyrate his hips. They start vocalizing basso nova rhythms and dance a salsa mix of rumba. samba and cha-cha around and after some smoldering tangles. This will not be their last tango in the locker room.

Un Poyo Rojo could have easily played out like an overlong comedy sketch that runs out of steam. But the sheer sustained physicality and comedy invention puts it into a category by itself. The show is directed by Hermes Gaido, and co-choreographers, Poggi and Rosso. They work in various areas of dance, theater, and multimedia in Argentina and Europe. The show has many components that can be manipulated for each performance, but the technical artistry and the dance athleticism is always the main ingredient.

This Fringe audience was stadium lusty in its applause, bounding to their feet twice with the second round being for Rossi’s encore, a lip-sync to ‘El Pollito pío’. Rossi characterizes both the musical instruments and the vocals. With his curled up waxed mustache and his ability to cross his eyes one pupil at a time, he is a face-comic virtuoso. His lip sync videos already get millions of views and have made him a global YouTube star.

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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