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Still Resonating: "Dicotomía del Silencio" by Rogelio Lopez & Dancers

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Photo Credit: Ryan Kwok

If reckoning is a sensational act - a surrender to past, present, and future converging in a single, visceral moment - then “Dicotomía del Silencio” gives form to that sensation. The newest work from Rogelio Lopez & Dancers is based largely on Lopez’s exploration of past traumas, and what he calls in his Director’s Note “a need to organize and contextualize” his experiences growing up in Mexico with a “heavily Catholic faith influenced family.” In this deeply personal process of sense-making, Lopez has sheparded to expression not just the concepts that order his chaotic past, but the very sensations from which those concepts arise. The result is a haunting, awestruck, and searching prostration before a realm of visceral truths.

It feels relevant to say as well that just 12 days before I saw this work on its opening night, Lopez’s mother, Ignacia García, passed away. He dedicated the work to her, and the raw power of his grief and love, as well as the love so clearly felt for him by his dancer-collaborators, imbued the evening for me with a rare, near-tsunamic power.

The piece begins in darkness. A single bulb shines through a window upstage left, where Lopez stands playing a small hand crank music box. Behind him, dancer Andrew Merrell approaches him in cycles - coming forward to place a tender hand on his shoulder, and then backing approach again, this time an embrace... The effect of his tidal movement reads almost like a musical element, intertwining the ethereal music box notes and Lopez’s hand that goes around and around and around. Lights off.

In the darkness a singing bowl sounds. The redolent note ripples out like a circular wave. A quartet of dancers - Andrew Merrell, Alexandria Whaley, Kevin Gaytan and Rebecca Johnson - is revealed center stage by two handheld flashlights that illuminate their black-clothed bodies like whispered secrets. They begin to move with full-bodied reverence, devotional patterns both intricate and full. At one point they bare their teeth to the sky, like an open-mouthed salute to the abyss. The darkness slips around the edges of their partnering like a sacred shroud. Pay attention, it urges - not all of what is can be seen, not all of what can be seen is what it seems.

Lopez follows as the quartet gives way to an empty stage. He enters sliding backwards along the floor, whispering a looping prayer in Spanish and shining a single light at the top of the empty stage on a toy truck that slowly retreats.

For the next thirty minutes, the piece continues to unfold in a series of deeply poetic, inexplicably intertwined sections lit only by handheld flashlights. The dynamic of separation between Lopez - who returns to the stage multiple times for solos but doesn’t interact with the other four dancers except as witness - offers a clear structural element to the work, and speaks poignantly of the isolation trauma often begets. The darkness offers a spacious container from which the work’s visceral logic emanates like an ember in the gut; winding like a labyrinth that unfolds with juicy partnering, sensuous details and a delicacy of touch that makes the whole piece resonate like glimpses of the unconscious.

Lopez’s solos are as varied as any infinitely complex internal landscape, from full-bodied dancing so expressive it seems to blur ecstasy and agony, to mumbled prayers, apparent rituals of repentance, and the quiet moment with the slowly-retreating toy truck. The other four dancers easily match his dynamism and feeling with a series of duets, trios, and quartets that speak to the paradoxes at the heart of intimacy, pleasure, trauma, desire, and connection. The dancing throughout is stunning - rigorous, athletic, and highly-technical without a trace of artifice. A single movement motif threads throughout, repeated almost every time by the hands of one person in embrace on the back of the person they hold. Hauntingly expressive each time it appears, the gestural motif evokes for me both devotion and dissection.

A turning point comes as a full-throated song from Lopez rings through the dark. A single bulb comes on overhead to illuminate his body, covered in scissors. El Señor me ha mirado a los ojos, sonriendo ha dicho mi nombre, Lopez sings. En la arena he dejado mi barca. Junto a ti, buscaré el otro mar. Though, I’m unclear what the scissors are meant to express, the image is stark and impactful, and Lopez’s singing holds me in rapt attention. A quartet follows, and then a duet - both which feel like echoes of previous sections but somehow texturally distinct in the twilight glow. The intimacy of the interactions between dancers feels more specific to the people themselves and slightly less symbolic, while the unbidden logic that holds the piece together feels slightly more diffuse without the stark delineation of singular beams of light.

All five dancers return to the stage for a final score in which, one by one, the dancers kiss Lopez and then rip velcro strips from his shirt to expose stripes like vertical red gashes. Though the image holds the potential for me to feel disappointingly unsubtle, by this point in the work, all five performers have established such a profound level of humanity that I am willing to read it instead as a guileless expression of the paradox of connection, risk, and pain. At last, only Lopez and Merrell remain. They share a tender kiss, Merrell rips a final strip from Lopez’s shirt, and leaves him onstage with nothing but a heavy strumming guitar. Silence. Lopez carves the movement motif like a devotional gesture on his own body once. Lights out.

For me, “Dicotomía del Silencio” felt like a physicalized reckoning with the sensations that haunt us. There were elements of the work I wasn’t sure how to read, but each piece felt like a crystal shard - something real and true. In the end, even the diffuseness of the resolution felt as if it served the piece overall, which seemed to ask questions so large their answers may not even exist, or at least not yet. Instead, the work made space for an impactful coalescence of sensation and its expression, while Lopez and his collaborators performed with a rare humanity so deep it felt almost spiritual.

“Dicotomía del Silencio” plays twice more, on March 23rd and 24th at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. If your experience seeing the show is anything like mine, you may find the experience reverberates for you long after the house lights come up.


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