Miami's Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre opened a portal into a fascinating and sometimes troubling fantasy world during a concert Thursday night presented by the O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University with Northrop Concerts and Lectures. Drawing upon an array of influences -- opera, modern dance, drag, hip-hop, experimental theater, classic movies -- choreographer Herrera and her equally game troupe showed raging creativity plus a taste for the transgressive in two works, particularly 2009's "Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret."
While water plays a prominent role in "Drowning" Herrera extends the metaphor in a fascinating fashion that integrates her fluid movement style with a performance-art sensibility. It's about being overwhelmed, either to the point of ecstasy or humiliation. Mysterious beauty, dark comedy, bad behavior, unrestrained desire, seat-shifting discomfort and poignant empathy all co-exist within a work using a series of vignettes that follow the peculiar logic of dreams.
Many moments stand out, including Gerardo "Geraldine" Pilatti's mercilessly funny riff on Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" involving a quick change from Kate-Winslet-style Titanic wear to wetsuit. There is also a mermaid-like dance that shimmers within David Ferri's liquid lighting, and a tightly wound disco interaction for the group.
A scene featuring Ivonne Batanero is unsettling. Dressed as a childlike entertainer, she is carried by three men who plop her down onto one decorated cake after another, her squeals of joy morphing into horrified shrieks. The joke turns into a violation, just the sort of boundary-testing Herrara relishes.
But in "Drowning," as well as "Dining Alone" (2011), this kind of imagery propels Herrara's interest in human interactions. With "Dining," Herrera explores the fragility of life's journey, as dancers walk across china plates laid on the floor.
Herrera also delves into feminist commentary, with Batanero, Katie Stirman and Leah Verier-Dunn alternating lip-syncing to Snow White's trilling "Someday My Prince Will Come" with face-first dives into cream pies. They mar their elegance while sarcastically upending the princess myth and tossing their long hair in homage to the late dance-theater legend Pina Bausch. In a piece about appetites of all kinds, Herrera reveals a hunger that never abates -- one that craves acceptance and love, but on its own off-kilter terms.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.