“Grab it. Catch it from the air. Look at it. Release.” Late on a Monday night the eight dancers in IMPACT Dance Company’s original production of “Frida!” receive direction from artistic director and choreographer, Judy Bejarano. One of the most brilliant things about Bejarano’s choreography style is how creative and clear her direction can be. Though she primarily creates abstract Modern dance-theater pieces with IMPACT, which she formed in 1995, her communication with her dancers is beautifully precise. She doesn’t say “put your arm in the air” or direct limbs and body parts; instead, she knows the art of dance and the artistry of dancers well enough to give them her ideas and allow the motion to spring from the thought.
While the finished product might be high concept, Bejarano speaks straight to the bodies of her dancers. I’m reminded of one of my favorite choreographers, Ryan Heffington, and a video he made for Nowness where he talks through each gesture in the Sia “Chandelier” music video, naming each movement as he goes. He choreographed a number of Sia music videos as well as the brilliant 2013 Arcade Fire video “We Exist” starring Andrew Garfield’s lovely dancing complete with a blond wig and cut-offs. In “Chandelier” the distinctive dance moves are each closely connected to an emotion, a thought, or a symbol and in the final music video Maddie Zeigler captures the essence of each.
Watching and listening as Bejarano takes the dancers through a piece exploring the life of artist Frida Kahlo is like listening to an imagist poem. “Suitcase. Hand. Glove. Pull. Open ribcage.” These tiniest of mundane objects and motions are elevated, heightened, as I imagine life was for Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s life was a study in extremes and perseverance through adversity. Her tumultuous love affairs, most famously with Diego Rivera, her political activism, her multiple brushes with death: all these life events are touched with her signature resilience.
Each movement in “Frida!” can be traced back to one of Frida Kahlo’s iconic paintings, an unique mixture of unschooled folkart styling combined with Surrealist and Magical Realist subject matter. Frida Kahlo was an iconoclast, so when Bejarano began researching her life she found that Kahlo’s story was screaming to be told through dance. Instead of loosely finding inspiration in the paintings, Bejarano found herself surprised that she wanted to tell the story of Frida the artist and woman in a more narrative and biographical vein.
Two years ago IMPACT performed the first version of “Frida!” in the Fort Collins Museum of Art in concert with a photography exhibition that featured several portraits of Kahlo. The dancers moved through the audience, sometimes surrounding them in the small gallery space. IMPACT is known in the community as one of the only performance companies specializing in unconventional performance spaces and breaking the fourth wall between the performer and the audience.
At the second performance of “Frida!” on the Magnolia stage at the Lincoln Center, which runs from March 7th-10th, the choreography has been adapted for a larger proscenium space and the creative team has had the freedom to add projections, lighting, and costume changes. In “Frida!” Bejarano’s eclectic style of dance-theater uses voice recordings in Spanish and in English, music chosen for its feeling rather than its heritage, and text and images from Kahlo herself.
I asked Bejarano if she often sees movement in paintings, if she experiences visual art through potential motion, and she laughed. “It’s always together. All the same thing. Writing, music, dance–sometimes it’s hard to pull them apart. I might see a color and think of a movement or hear a word and associate it with a line or a shape,” Bejarano tells me as she describes her organic process of creating a piece. In her dance classes at CSU she often has her students write, draw, or look at visual art throughout their final choreography projects. “Sometimes they’re like, ‘Why in the world are we doing all this?’” Bejarano chuckles. “You know, Natalie, it’s all connected.” I do know. Trying to suss out whence inspiration came or with what part of myself I’m feeling something can be impossible when you’re in the midst of creating, interpreting, or experiencing a work of art.
When I was a young writer I’d often go to the art museum in my city, sit in front of a painting or sculpture, and do ekphrastic writing. Usually associated with poetry, ekphrastic writing comes from the Greek ekphrasis which is the rhetorical exercise of writing a description of a work of art. It was a useful prompt to have a full image with shape, color, and line to start with. My pen flowed easily as I sat in front of works of the Masters, and instead of sketching like the diligent art students I wrote whatever that work made me feel and think. But “Frida!” is so much more than a transfiguration of one art form to another because this piece is also about a life.
Near the end of the piece a diary entry Frida Kahlo wrote from her hospital bed near the end of her life is woven into the interstitial music. The dancers move in rhythm not to the music but to the cadence of the words themselves. Frida’s words. Bejarano’s ability to find the music in texts and to embolden words through movement is truly a remarkable thing to behold. It’s all the same thing.
Tickets are available at http://www.lctix.com/frida
Frida! explores the life and work of the Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. Artistic Director, Judy Bejarano and 8 dancers present an evening of dance theatre that explores Frida’s struggle and success. “Frida’s ability to construct her own identity, flaunt the constricts of what was considered proper in her time and overcome incredible obstacles in her short life provide rich material to draw from” says Bejarano. The program features rich and sensual movement and explores both the tragic and triumphant events that shaped her life.
Show times are as follows:
Thu. Mar 7, 7:30 pm
Fri. Mar 8, 7:30 pm
Sat. Mar 9, 7:30 pm
Sun. Mar 10, 2:00 pm
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, includes one 15-minute intermission
Author’s Note: I recently wrote and directed an immersive dance-theater piece called “Water