There are a lot of distinct, personal touches to Rebeca Medina’s latest evening-length work, Paraíso, at Five Myles gallery in Crown Heights. There are details that indicate hospitality, like free snacks before the performance, or the personal, face-to-face greeting from Medina to audience members. There are details that indicate artisan construction, like a web of branches and rope that artfully hangs from the ceiling and wall, or the costumes, richly created by Tatyana Tenenbaum. There are details that indicate a taste for cinematic effect, like the projection of a title screen for each new section or the presence of a narrative voice, captured with enthusiastic charm by performer Molly Schaffner. These details—the seeming essentialness of the work—allow the personal to become universal, a concept deeply rooted in the work’s creation. The content of Paraíso is derived from twenty-five women and their response to the question, “What is paradise to me?” It is apparent that these stories are treated with nuanced attention and thoughtful consideration. What is less clear is how these letters provide the wide-ranging territory upon which this work treads.
November 12 – 14, 2015
Idealistic locales aside, the exploration of these various paradises builds a world that is endearing without being overly sentimental, evocative without being overly prescriptive. The stories of these women (shaped by Medina and dramaturg Alex Borinsky) are most powerful when the dancing cuts into them and roughs up the dialogue’s sharpened edges. The intimate, blue-gray gallery allows for the supple, sinuous movement texture to stir a thick air, as when Schaffner and Carly Czach engage in a fictional argument on Czach’s well-being. “Is there someone you can go to emotionally?” Schaffner repeats as they find increasingly binding ways to slink around the floor, at once dodging each other’s advances and remaining playfully grounded. Czach flips to her shoulder, insisting she is ok; Schaffner crouches low, attempting to pull the floor closer to her. It is funny and endearing even though I do not quite know whose paradise we are inside.
And yet, how much does being inside your paradise have to do with knowing its source? There are moments that work to create a deep, fantastical energy, as when all three performers find themselves in synchronous log-rolling, gingerly passing over each other as needed and forced to navigate what it means to share space. There is something so tender and simple about these real-time compromises; paradise not as alternate reality but as a part of authentic coexistence.
Medina has set up a world in which we travel from a bashful girl’s date at the movies to a Spanish countryside to the inside of a bird’s nest, all of this present in equal, improbable measure. When movement takes the fore, ideas on paradise have room to expand and seep energetically into the air. At times, the dialogue overshadows this fluttering reality with a reminder of the limiting effects of language and tone. Delivery can be abrupt and creates a rhythm that distracts from the richness of the content. Words distinctly carry meaning—they have to—but movement is not propped up on that same ideal. Medina’s use of movement and dialogue, in equal measure, in order to propel forward the narrative (or ideological framework) is more effective when dance is allowed to become the predominant language of these fantasies.
At its core, paradise is an idea whose interpretations differ widely across generations, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, genders, and the like. The notion that it exists offers a premise that is, overall, refreshingly hopeful, and one that allows this work to permeate the very boundaries of its own making. Paradise as locale, as philosophy, as culture, as mindset. In this world, Medina’s paradise seems to push against any striving for perfection to acknowledge the messiness in getting there. Paradise is a way to capture an ideal state and, in doing so, reveals how envisioning such a place is a privilege of imagination. Paraíso gives us permission to imagine that place, even if for a brief time.