|At left: Esduardo Mariscal and his group of dancers. Mariscal on his latest work, ''The Secret Waltz of Flies'': ''There will be moments that are shocking and mysterious, and some that are totally, totally silly.'' |
Staff photo by Jack Milton
The Mariscal Express
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Describing an Esduardo Mariscal dance is like trying to tell a friend about a dream you had last night.
Dancers put champagne glasses on their heads and pose with the audience for a photo. A rambunctious puppet show set to an opera aria interrupts the dancing. Two figures, wrapped in bed sheets like mummies, embrace and kiss. A man, his face covered by a clock face, creeps around the edges of the stage.
As in the slumbering subconscious, the riveting, unrelated images are linked by a mysterious logic that defies explanation.
During the past two years, the Mexican native has shaken up Portland modern dance with his bold images, wild costumes and absurd humor. In a small dance scene that often has been dominated by cerebral works that favor an austere beauty, Mariscal's dances are like a welcome, dizzying trip to an amusement park.
He also has put more dancers on stage than anyone else locally (his new work has 14 performers), been more productive (four major works in just over two years) and recruited male dancers in a genre dominated in Portland by women. He also has drawn a new audience to dance - people in their 20s, who may be drawn to the multi-media, theatrical nature of Mariscal's work.
''I think his work is very refreshing for local audiences,'' says Laura Faure, director of the Bates Dance Festival.
In the past few weeks, Mariscal has spent most nights creating and rehearsing his new work, ''The Secret Waltz of the Flies,'' which will be presented June 24 and 25 at the Oak Street Theatre. Per usual, the dance is a series of unrelated vignettes which Mariscal has plucked willy-nilly from his imagination.
''I started thinking of images of gargoyles in the dark and that started to develop into a theme of craziness - everybody's craziness, not what psychiatrists talk about,'' Mariscal says in his deliberate, measured English. ''There will be moments that are shocking and mysterious, and some that are totally, totally silly.''
''Silly'' is not an adjective you would apply to Mariscal in person. His broad face and dark eyes seem expressionless. His voice is often monotone, unless he breaks into his native Spanish. Behind that blank facade, the 31-year-old choreographer is friendly, thoughtful, open and very serious, especially about his work. He says he is an all-or-nothing person.
There is also a touch of weariness to Mariscal. Maybe it's the result of being so focused and self-motivated. Or maybe it's the last twinges of culture shock. Mariscal has accomplished a good deal while he struggled with another language, climate and culture.
''It was so hard to leave Mexico, but I wanted to learn new things,'' he says. ''I think I lost a little bit of my identity.''
Mariscal spent most of his childhood in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonorra, the arid, mountainous Mexican state directly south of Arizona. He grew up in a family of eight children. His father is a Mexican folk singer.
At 15, he enrolled in dance classes at a high school for the arts. For two years, dance was the center of his life. Then a different fervor overtook him. He decided to become a monk, and moved to a monastery.
''I stopped studying dancing, because I thought it was destructive to my spirituality,'' Mariscal says. ''But when I went home to my parents, I would close the door and curtains in my room and I would dance. I was conflicted.''
While in the monastery, Mariscal discovered that he was gay. To make matters more difficult, he fell in love with a man who wasn't gay. He decided he had to leave the monastery and eventually the Catholic church.
''I can't say I'm a Catholic anymore, but I do believe in God,'' he says. ''I'm not ashamed of (that belief), because I can't understand life otherwise.''
Mariscal began dancing again and formed his own company. The first dance he choreographed ended up in a national arts festival. His company toured Mexico and was supported by the federal government there. Mariscal made a living wage as a choreographer, a king's ransom by dance world standards.
Mariscal's work combined dance and theater, a popular style in Mexico's modern dance scene. The expressionistic work of German choreographer Pina Bausch is popular in Mexico, and Mariscal continues to work in this vein, which he has dubbed comic-surrealism.
At 27, Mariscal won a Mexican government grant to study for two months in New York City, the modern dance capital of the world. He was ready for a change.
Change he got in droves in New York City. The Mexican's first winter was one of New York's worse. He struggled with English, trying to talk about the abstract ideas behind his work in a new tongue. The choreographer who had had his own company in Mexico was suddenly one of the teeming masses of young, hopeful dancers who converge on New York.
''It was very hard to be no one, no one in the middle of millions trying to survive,'' Mariscal says. ''I was pretty miserable in New York for the first three months.''
During his first summer in the United States, Mariscal attended the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston. He liked Maine well enough that when Bates College offered him an adjunct teaching job for that winter semester, he moved to Windham. In New York, he was overwhelmed with people. In Maine, he was overwhelmed with the lack of people and lack of sunshine.
''I come from a place where the sun shines every day,'' he says. ''I was pretty miserable for the first three months.''
Still, he found it much easier to make work in Maine than in New York City. By his first spring here, he had already created his first work in Maine, ''From Inside, From Outside (InConexiones II).'' In 1995, the University of Southern Maine hired Mariscal to be a guest artist in the dance and theater departments. He supports himself from that part-time position and working as an artist's model.
As a USM guest artist, Mariscal began his community dance project a year and a half ago.He advertised locally that he was looking for anybody who was interested in performing. Through this straightforward approach, Mariscal recruited willing participants, many of them young and untrained in dance. ''The Waltz of the Flies'' is the third work in that project.
Living sculpturesIn a dance studio in the Portland Performing Arts Center, Mariscal stares blank-faced at five dancers and drones ''um.''
He's trying to piece together a bit of choreography in the ''Waltz of the Flies'' that he has forgotten. In the section, the five ''flies'' grab one another's head in turn, but their arms keep getting tangled up, so tangled that two dancers tumble to the floor during one attempt. ''Ummmm,'' Mariscal responds.
''He makes it up on the spot,'' says Deb Panish, a jeweler who has danced in Mariscal's last three works. ''There are times when he comes in the next session and it's as as much up to us as up to him to remember the choreography.
''It's very challenging to work with him and creatively stimulating. His pieces are always growing and changing. I call them living sculptures.''
Community dance projects are typically a lot more fun to be in than to watch, but Mariscal has proven that needn't be the case. His first project, ''Nightmare on Elm Street,'' featured 17 dancers and was a surrealist romp inspired by the irrational imagery of Heironymous Bosch's canvas ''The Garden of Delights,'' circa 1500.
The movements were simple, but bold and often sultry. Mariscal isn't afraid to have his dancers move to the beat of the music, a convention rejected by much of modern dance, and in ''Nightmare'' they outright boogied in some sections.
''He gives his dancers exciting things to do,'' says Lisa Hicks, a local dancer and teacher who performed in an earlier Mariscal work. ''It's very challenging for them. They get to be theatrical, and they get to move.''
For Mariscal, working with untrained dancers has made his work even more theatrical.
''I tend to work with what I have and have them look OK with it,'' Mariscal says. ''In a way, that forced me to think of more theatrical situations.''
For ''Waltz of the Flies,'' that means a dancer sails on a swing over the stage. Dancers speak in gibberish to the audience. These are images that, like a dream, are as entrancing as they are inexplicable.
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