Iconic steps reworked

Dance artist Cristian Duarte gives new meaning to signature moves from famous dances

Cristian Duarte shifts from balletic grace to the sassiness of jazz with great east.
Cristian Duarte shifts from balletic grace to the sassiness of jazz with great east.PHOTO: KEVIN LEE

Review Dance


Cristian Duarte

The O.P.E.N.

School of the Arts Studio Theatre/Thursday

Brazilian dance artist Cristian Duarte presented a dynamic one-man show that navigated the diverse territory of dance history with a visually spare but contextually rich performance.

As its title bravely suggests, Duarte embarked on an ambitious solo that interpreted the works of a plethora of choreographers who have influenced him.

His expressive physicality was highlighted against a bare performance space. Bits of different movement phrases from numerous famous dances - such as Anna Pavlova's signature solo, The Dying Swan, and Nijinsky's L'apres Midi D'un Faune - were performed in unceasing succession.

With great ease, he shifted from balletic grace to the sassiness of jazz as he attempted to embody the original spirit of each little phrase as closely as possible. The work could have easily taken a turn towards stale comedic cliches, but it did not.

Duarte steered clear of cheap parody by being less concerned with superficial imitation and more concerned with opening up an investigation into the processes of memory.

Against a soundscape of spliced up music from these original dances, his body seemed to be manipulated and pulled in different directions by external forces. It was as if his body was constantly jolted by the physical memory of the different dance steps.

The physically tenacious Duarte had a focused calm on his face. It was the look of a performer who was investing all his effort in trying to remember and perform the different movement experiences as accurately as possible and it was this focus that made him so engaging to watch.

The pace of the work proceeded unabated like a constant stream of thought made visible through his moving body. Never once did he disengage from a very kinetic hour-long dance routine that demanded the entire dynamic spectrum of movement quality that only a very experienced dance artist could pull off.

Soft gestural lilts of the finger tips and wrists were met with hard feet stomps that drove energy powerfully into the ground. Spatial direction and orientation changed constantly as he moved through steps as stylistically unrelated as jazz kicks, contemporary floor work and pirouettes.

All this movement translated into a work that was laden with layers of meaning. It was, first and foremost, a repository of some of the most iconic moments in dance. Steps from works and artists such as contemporary Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, American musical-theatre choreographer Bob Fosse, American post-modern choreographer Yvonne Rainer, and even Michael Jackson's moon walk and Beyonce's hip thrusts and struts were fragmented and re-ordered to create new phrases that took on a meaning of their own.

Through this, the ideas of replication, authenticity and interpretation were put forth. The fact that he referenced the many iconic moments that had a big impact during their time also highlighted the power of dance as a communicative tool. One remembers how respective generations of youth started imitating the moon walk or Beyonce's signature moves when each of them became famous. I even giggled nostalgically when bits of Irene Cara's What A Feeling (from the hit 1980s movie Flashdance) and that famous song from Dirty Dancing were spliced ingeniously into the soundscape.

From Duarte's efforts at going through his treasure trove of dance memories, my own body's repository of movement was triggered, causing it to reflect on its own movement history.

The only question that lingered after the performance was whether a person who is not privy to an extensive knowledge of dance history would still be able to fully appreciate the performance? While I am of the opinion that some aspects might be lost, Duarte's performance will still remain engaging because he is a performer who exudes a very clear intent and strong presence on stage.


Lee Mun Wai is a founding member of T.H.E. Dance Company and a Young Artist Award recipient.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Iconic steps reworked'. Subscribe