In Part One, Rocha dressed most of her dancers as men in severe black suits with two dancers as women who clearly worked with these men. They all danced around a long table in movements reminiscent of Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, the men not only ignoring the women, but squeezing them out in a game of musical chairs that left the two women in a knock-down-drag-out fight for possession of the one remaining chair.
The “men” watched them battle it out as a quiet young lady in a simple red dress moved about like a guardian angel. A figure in a long-fringed costume also appeared occasionally to shimmy her fringes in a ghostly way and disappear. She reappeared in Part Two.
Rocha’s movement palette for the ersatz males was brilliantly realized: athletic, large and varied, easily making the case for Rocha’s choice to use these women as men. “Real” males would not have believably found the subtlety and sarcasm that these fine dancers were able to mine in Rocha’s movements.
Even the fight between the two women was so carefully choreographed that it was clear that these were two sophisticated people fighting despite themselves, constantly having to make up new and larger moves to make the other budge from the valuable real estate of that simple office chair (which represented the tiny slice of the pie their male colleagues afforded them).
Part Two wasn’t as clear as Part One. This part was more fantastical, making its mark by dreamlike, but effective imagery. It began with two women dancing in outlandish pantaloons, bra tops and glittery headgear, swaying and undulating to Joseph Rivas’ inventive, flexible electronic score, a score which totally supported Rocha’s resourceful steps and dramatic intent.
One woman sported a clear plastic cube over her head; one a feathery pink costume that turned her into a giant flower; one was a forlorn figure in a short blue dress who roamed about on point; and the red-fringed character who returned only to be joined by two others who jiggled and wiggled and spun about making their fringes dance. Finally, the young woman in the plain red dress made another appearance clearing the air of fantasy.
Rocha appeared to be dealing in stereotypes and tropes (exotic dancer, depressed female, etc.) helped by the ingenious, beautifully constructed costumes she herself designed, varying from the urbane to the plain to fairy tale imaginative.
This wasn’t just a political statement about gender stereotypes, but a sensitive work of art that made its points through fine choreography, costuming, lighting (smartly designed by Jennifer Hill, creating a wide range of ambiances) and music. Half-Heard accomplished this without beating the audience members over the head.
What Rocha managed to do is personalize, sometimes in odd terms, the pinheaded macho behavior of the males in this society while pointing out the silly images women must endure.
Ms. Rocha and her dancers dug deeply and displayed all the heartbreak and frustration women face with a rare combination of muscular vigor and psychological insight. The dancers, all wonderful were Dervla Carey-Jones, Courtney Drasner, Nikki Ervice, Chelsea Escher, Shoko Fujita, Jamie Graham, Nicole Lemelin and Ms. Rocha.
Rocha Dance Theater: Half-Heard (February 15, 2019)
Gerald W. Lynch Theater/John Jay College, 524 West 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.halfheard.brownpapertickets.com
Running time: 90 minutes including one intermission