It's good vs. evil — and flamenco vs. tap — in Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre's production of "Garden of Names," which opened Friday night at the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis.
The bad guys tap, obviously.
Based on the novel "Imagining Argentina" by American writer Lawrence Thornton, the show is set in Argentina's 1970s "Dirty War," when as many as 30,000 activists, intellectuals, artists and leftists disappeared. Zorongo's piece illustrates the horror of that period, although it contains a certain lightness and theatricality, as well.
Zorongo artistic director Susana di Palma choreographed the piece back in 1996, in collaboration with Joe Chvala of Flying Foot Forum. Di Palma has now re-imagined the work for the Cowles stage, bringing in guest dancers and musicians from around the world for this ambitious production.
Particularly noteworthy is Puerto Rican dancer Jeanne d'Arc Casas, who gives a visceral performance. Casas demonstrates unbearable frailty and vulnerability in a moving solo, whipping her body around as if she were a rag doll. In some moments, it's as if she is possessed by spirits. As her solo progresses, her shoulders hunch, her head pushes forward, her hand thrusts forward and she becomes a scarily powerful force.
Even though it's a dance production, "Garden of Names" could almost be called a musical. The singers dance, the dancers sing, and all of the performers act their hearts out in this gripping story about life under an oppressive regime. Another guest artist, Manuel Gutierrez, is quite the triple threat as actor, singer and dancer.
Meanwhile, the projections used in the production are more miss than hit. For example, after a dance scene that depicts sexual violence, the projections show gruesome images of sexual torture, to the point of feeling gratuitous.
Some of the costumes are a bit too generic. While 1970s fashions don't fall within the typical flamenco line, surely an exception could have been made in the interest of rooting the story in a time and place.
In the role of villainous junta, the dancers from Flying Foot Forum bring an almost cartoonishly evil flair. They stalk the aisles before the production, with their black berets, red cravats and sunglasses. Their best scene is with the famous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who confront the tap-dancing meanies in a thrilling clash pairing two percussive forms of dance.
As both co-choreographer and director, di Palma offers an ambitious production, one that excels in the virtuosity and artistry the company is known for, but still could have used a bit more refining.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.