Sunday, August 6, 2017

Perpetual Disturbance: Response to Rina Espiritu's "leveling"

Photo by Deneka Peniston

On Saturday May 27th at LaMaMa’s The Club, I attended day one of Maura Donohue’s curated Shared Evening showcase of Hunter College choreographers. My response focuses on one of the choreographer’s that day, Rina Espiritu, and her work "leveling" performed by April Amparo and Camilla Davis.
There is something savory about the unsavory. Not everything in life is sunshine and rainbows. (Nor would I or many of us like everything to be so.) Sometimes, you need a bit of texture to redefine lines of beauty… shake the foundations up a bit and journey into a new experience. This is where "leveling succeeds, not in making the uncomfortable accessible, but in the powerful way it forces itself down your throat as your gag reflex kicks in and you gasp for air. "Leveling" kicks your ass. And you learn to love that.
In "leveling', the silence speaks volumes. The dancers slap their bodies, throw themselves through space, and into the floor with audible thuds… gasping,  grunting and panting as the exertion takes a toll on their bodies. This escalates to the performers gagging themselves repeatedly as though purging a demon from within. Together, these noises produce a natural soundtrack of physical exertion and wild unrest that is identifiably human. I recall a particular moment in which both of the dancers collapsed to the floor simultaneously, and an audience member next to myself instinctively gasped. As audience members, we not only see, but feel the raw, fragile humanness of the two performers before us and are drawn to sympathize with the physical strain they place on their bodies
These outbursts of reckless physical abandonment are juxtaposed by smaller, quieter moments of controlled muscular tension and focus. The close proximity of the performers in the intimate setting of LaMaMa’s Club allowed the audience to take this in with uncomfortable detail causing my own body to tense up in anxious anticipation of the next violent explosion of energy
While the performers’ internal, self-immersed focuses suggest that the source of their conflicts lies inside themselves, at times, their personal tension transforms into an outward display of aggression. This is exemplified in the relationships between the dancers as they wrestle, twist and tear at each other’s costumes, and grab at each other’s bodies. Other places reveal an almost spiteful animosity toward the audience, for instance, when the performers gag and thrust their bodies towards the audience forcing them to observe the distasteful act.
Framed by the internal battles the dancers exhibited, these moments feel a bit awkward to myself. I am drawn to question how this outward aggression fit in with the narrative of personal conflict that encases it. What impetus was it that provoked the dancers to transition between these two states of internal and external? These mysteries left me a bit confused, but also very curious, intrigued, and wanting more.
At the close of Rina Espiritu’s "leveling", I can’t shake the feeling that I am in deep need of cleansing, yet another twisted part of me is begging for moreRina’s work is not made to be digested with ease, rather it is meant to sit uncomfortably in one’s mind and thoughts not unalike how spoiled food lingers in one stomach long after eaten. From this uncomfortable place of perpetual disturbance, "leveling" succeeds in maintaining the audience’s attention and making a sizeable impact on their memory.  

For more information on Rina Espiritu and her work, check our her website at:

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