Mimulus Dance Company's Dolores Is Entrancing, Light on Almodóvar in Scottsdale

Jomar Mesquita's Dolores begins with a lone woman, arms outstretched and eyes closed, spinning in circles around the stage. Her full red skirt billows out around her thighs as the dulcet tones of "Cucurrucucu Paloma" gently waft over the audience.

I was pretty much sold from the start.

The Brazilian-based Mimulus Dance Company presented the piece on Tuesday, March 4, as part of the Discovery Series at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and I still can't get the performance out of my head.

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The movement in Dolores is firmly grounded in ballroom dancing traditions, particularly tango. But choreographer and artistic director Jomar Mesquita adds his own flare to the somewhat standard partnered sequences. There are multiple, albeit brief, instances of a female dancer balancing atop a male dancer's foot, for instance, that sent a chill up my spine. The physical prowess of the eight performers is obvious, with impeccable solo and group dancing throughout the piece.

But the dancers' ability to fully inhabit their roles is what sets Dolores apart. The story is not necessarily plot-driven, yet several characters emerge -- the macho dude at the bar, the scorned lover, the enmeshed couple. The dancers' somewhat exaggerated portrayals of these stock characters work because there is an overarching sense of lightheartedness. The macho dude is (for real) eating a banana on stage while his eyes are trained to the undulating hips of a woman. And once he manages to pin down a female partner? His eyes stray, once again, to the other hunky guy on stage, and the two of them end up leaving their respective women to perform a sensuous partnered dance with one another. The scenario is not wholly unbelievable, but the absurdity of the situation is emphasized, even celebrated.

Adding to this feeling, is a truly praise-worthy attention to aesthetics. A scrim made of elastic bands stands at the front of the stage for the duration of performance, just slightly obscuring the audience's view. And starting with the woman's skirt at the aforementioned top of the show, the color red pops up repeatedly: in my favorite instance, as two stretchy pieces of fabric that a set of couples dance with/around/between. These visual queues add a sense of drama and mystique, making Dolores truly entrancing.

The performance's dramatic celebration of the absurdity of the human condition can and does stand alone, in my opinion. But the show is spun as a tribute to Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, so it's something that should be addressed. While I'm no Almodóvar expert, I am an avid fan of his films, and aside from using the music from his movies, Dolores seemed to have little to nothing to do with Almodóvar himself. According to the program notes, "there is no intention to bring to stage a repetition of his [Almodóvar's] work, but to explore the relationship among people under the 'Almodóvarian' atmosphere in which passion, desire, kitch environments and absurdities prevail."

The idea of creating an "Almodóvarian" atmosphere seems tenuous at best. Almodóvar owns neither passion nor absurdity. Artists of all forms have grappled with these sweeping concepts for eons, as far as I can tell. To acknowledge Almodóvar as a personal inspiration is one thing, but attributing the entire show to the filmmaker seems displaced and unnecessary.

Still, with its powerful dancing, gorgeous visuals, and universal themes, Dolores was a beautiful display of contemporary Brazilian choreography and dance. It quietly slipped into the top spot on the list of best dance show's I've seen in 2014.

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