Myron Johnson, artistic director of Ballet of the Dolls, is never one to hold back. And his latest production, “Cabaret Nudista,” is anything but a timid tribute to the music and culture of Mexico (with a particular shout-out to Tijuana).
The obvious influences run the gamut from Day of the Dead to Mexican cult horror films, traveling circuses, red light districts, bright fluorescent accents and ancient rituals. In other words, it’s a typical display of stream-of-consciousness wonderment, courtesy of Johnson’s Technicolor imagination.
Contrary to the title, nobody takes off any clothes in this show. In fact, the evening is almost as much about the array of colorfully imaginative costumes created by Grant Whittaker as it is the dancing. Street couture clashes boldly with more traditional styles, all filtered through the gilded frame of south-of-the border kitsch. In both choreography and design, the show rides the thin line between stereotype and homage. But here, as in the case with many past projects, the Dolls prove their skill in finding the balance — just barely.
“Cabaret Nudista” is like a series of picture postcards come to life. The 13 dancers — faces made up to resemble leering skulls — give lively performances by summoning the 24-7 vibrancy of Tijuana and contrasting it to more solemn images from Mexico’s earliest history, such as Heather Cadigan Brockman’s loping lupine spirit solo. Stephanie Fellner, Valerie Torres-Comvalius and Brockman perform a lush trio about longing, and the inevitable disappointment that comes with it. Rebecca Abroe gives a particularly eerie turn as a wide-eyed doll-like figure who could easily haunt your dreams.
The show’s second act feels far less substantial than the first. It is meant to highlight Mexico in the present day and into the future by focusing on its hip hop rather than mariachi music and while there are some strong moves to the pounding beats, the evening’s vision is not as sharply focused, as if the party is winding down to a close but no one is quite sure how to kick out the rowdy crowd. But when the work lingers in its oddest dreamlike and most fantastic surrealist moments, it is a hallucinogenic pleasure, one worthy of a tequila shot or two in its favor.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.