InQUAD Review

InQUAD 2019: a smashing introduction to mignolo dance

Jerry Hochman

August 23, 2019

When you attend performances by a group of choreographers described as “emerging,” you often get a mixed bag of results. This was the case with the recent incarnation of “inQUAD,” a program of dances by emerging companies coordinated and presented by Kristen Klein, Artistic Director and Choreographer of Inclined Dance Project (IDP). This program, the fifth in the series, was a step or two above many other such programs, with a smashing introduction to one company (mignolo dance), and another fine piece performed by IDP. The pieces by kamrDANCE (making a repeat inQUAD appearance) and Lauren Beirne Dance Works were executed well, but to my eye were less successful, if only because I’ve seen many prior efforts addressing the common dominant theme.

I’ll discuss the program in the above-referenced order.

Many choreographers claim to have invented a new dance language. Most often, that phrase relates to a step or combination, or use of a particular part of the body, in ways that have, allegedly, not previously been seen or emphasized. Marco Goecke’s choreography is a well-known example. Another, related example is more literal: movement sequences that uniquely reference the moment’s musical or thematic pulse or subject, not so much miming it as describing it, so when the action repeats, the movement repeats. While it may involve some aspect of the former, mignolo dance’s choreographers, sisters Charly and Eriel Santagado, focus on the latter. The result is intriguing, not so much by what the result says as how it says it.

The company was represented by two pieces: Translation Study No. 3, subtitled “A movement translation of Chopin’s ‘Nocturne’,” and, earlier in the program, by Paradox in Translation. The latter, according to the program note based on previous Translation Studies No. 4 and 5, was a more complete dance, but Translation Study No. 3 is a more crystalline indication of what’s being accomplished.

It’s easier to explain what this movement is not. It’s not dance / ballet mime; it’s not a substitute for speech used to describe a situation or condition. It’s not acting in a particular way: there’s little discernable story, and there’s no emotional display. And it doesn’t use the music (or, in the case of Paradox in Translation, the accompanying poetry) as background or inspiration on which to choreograph movement, whether in connection with some narrative or not. What the Santagado sisters appear to be attempting to do is to choreograph the music or the poetry itself, but in a different artistic medium. It doesn’t so much allow one to see the music or the words in a different way as it enables a viewer to see the music or poetry in visual terms, without mimicking it. That may be a distinction without a difference, but they’re not choreographing to the music or the poetry, they’re choreographing the music or the poetry itself.

As fine as Isadora Duncan’s choreography to Chopin is, it takes the music in a natural direction that she chose. And as wonderful as Jerome Robbins’s pieces to Chopin music are (Dances at a GatheringOther DancesIn the Night), they add a narrative of sorts or emotional gloss inspired by the music. In Translation Study No. 3, Eriel Santagado dances to music by Chopin (not specifically identified), reflecting every movement nuance in the composition (if there’s more than a single piece, it’s been stitched together seamlessly). The result is as beautifully crafted as the music. Every movement fits every sound, every timbre, and every tempo.

And while I often criticize choreography that slavishly follows the musical accompaniment (every sound has to be matched by a movement), this is different; this is the sound itself visualized. The music, and the movement that represents it, is all there is; but it’s enough. Watching Translation No. 3, and Santagado execute it, is magical.

Paradox in Translation is choreographed by Charly Santagado to poetry by her and Matthew Menchaca, and includes music by a variety of composers, including Steve Reich and the Books. But it’s the poetry (unfortunately, not identified, and the words were not included in the program) that moves the dance. As I watched the piece evolve (the dancers were Emory Campbell, Frances Fuller, Karolina Holmstrom, and Charly and Eriel Santagado), I became increasingly fascinated by what was happening. This isn’t just the repetition of themes, but of the words and phrases in the poem (it may have been more than one poem), and these visualizations were repeated whenever the poem repeated the words. In simplistic terms, the movement assigned to each refrain is the same – but here it’s more than just a series of refrains. It sounds repetitious and boring, and there’s no question that it’s been done to one extent or another before, but here it was all strung together so well, within an overall sense of love and loss, that the sensation was less repetition than quality craftsmanship. The phrases translated into movement create a whole that’s more engrossing to watch than the poems are to hear.

The Santagado dancers have reportedly been choreographing for roughly ten years, but mignolo dance was formed only in two years ago (possibly to accommodate their choreographic concept to produce a multi-dancer piece like Paradox in Translation. Based solely on this initial exposure to the group, the only thing about it that disappoints is the affectation of using the small initial letters in the company’s name, which to me only draws attention to what appears to be an attempt to minimize attention. But I’ll grant that doing so may have a purpose here: mignolo means small finger or pinky, so having small letters instead of initial caps fits. I don’t know the origin of the group’s name beyond that (thumbing their pinky at established forms of dance?; mocking the “raised pinky effect” in ballet?), but if they can expand this to more than a curiosity, they may be on to something.