Trace of Purple Sadness
nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
July 5, 2012
Trace Of Purple Sadness, a solo movement piece in this year’s undergroundzero Festival, resembles an art installation one might see occupying a room in a gallery. The design elements are minimalist and intentionally discordant, and performer-choreographer-co-creator Ximena Garnica engages with them through extended gesture sequences that largely stay at the same slow rhythm. There is much to admire about Garnica’s execution, as she exhibits absolute control over her body in even the most strenuous of held poses. Similarly, her collaborators Shige Moriya (co-creator, video/lighting), Rolland Toledo (sound), and Laddio Bolocko (additional recorded music) all make solid contributions to the world of the piece, which is at once dystopic and evocative of the familiar. Yet, as with many installations, the piece feels more impressionistic than cathartic, offering few opportunities for the audience to emotionally invest in the character at its center.
As stated in the program, Trace of Purple Sadness seeks to depict the “journey of one dancer in [a] constant state of becoming in an ever-changing world.” Co-creators Garnica and Moriya have chosen a lone white circle as the setting for this journey, which is revealed to be made up of a chalk-like powder. The powder shifts and flies into the air as the dancer tries to find her identity, mirroring the production’s overall theme. By the end of the piece, the circle has settled into a new form around her.
The video and lighting design uses Garnica’s body and the circle as its canvases, at times making it seem like her inner spirit is flying outward, at others times like there are outside forces creeping in. In a particularly effective moment, Moriya blankets the dancer in a series of amorphous shapes that resemble celestial bodies, all of them seeming to merge with one another to create something new. The score, meanwhile, makes able use of ambient noise to punctuate each stage of the dancer’s journey.
There is little variation in the show’s rhythms or delivery except for one moment in which the sound cuts out and the lights come up fully. Garnica sits upright, makes eye contact with the audience for the first time, and smiles deeply as if she’s finally discovered her place in the world. No sooner has she established this connection, however, then the most frantic series of gestures begins and she is thrown off her center. Perhaps if this sequence were either the last or next-to-last of the piece, there would a discernible arc to the character’s journey and it would prove easier to empathize. Instead, Garnica reverts her focus inward once more, the show resumes its prior rhythms, and the ending feels anticlimactic.
The strongest aspect of the piece is the interplay of Garnica with the multi-faceted design that surrounds her. It is apparent that this team thrives on and builds off of each other’s efforts, and can create work that actively engages the minds of its audience. If their next project is able to engage their emotional side as well, it would build upon these strengths to have a greater resonance dramatically.
Cautionary note: There is nudity in this production.