3-2-1: Rovaco Dance Company at The Paradise Factory

New York, N.Y. Last week at Paradise Factory, the fledgling Rovaco Dance Company delighted audiences at the Tamasha NYC festival with three works by artistic director Rohan Bhargava.The program was titled 3-2-1, a callout to the trio, duet, and solo of which it was comprised. The three moderate-length works (one of which was an excerpt from a larger piece) ran the gamut from amusing to sensual to arresting. 

Jared McAboy in Kool Kids. Photo by Ezra Goh Photography, Courtesy Rovaco.

Jared McAboy in Kool Kids.

Kool Kids, a world premiere with music composed by Austin Guerrazzi, opened the program. The first image is of Jared McAboy, posed with his hands at his lapels, chin tipped up. We hear the click of a camera, and he shifts instantaneously into a wide stance, hands at his hips. Click he fake smiles. Click he reaches. Click back to the beginning. He shifts through the poses readily, following the increasingly complex rhythms of the sound, adding syncopations and odd details between poses. The effect is mesmerizing, so when he suddenly ends the cycle, head reverberating from side to side before he breaks out of his spotlight with a fist pump, attitude dropping into a New Yorker’s indifferent cool, we’re ready to follow him.

Jared McAboy in Kool Kids.

Jared McAboy in Kool Kids.

McAboy takes the space with a solo that waves through contemporary forms, unerringly musical and precisely calculated to reinforce his “cool guy” image. In one moment he grasps a bandana with one foot and tosses it up to a hand at chest height, initiating the other hand to card through his hair, fix his bow tie. In another, he sticks his hands in his pockets and sinuously winds to the floor and back up, slides down to a split with the smooth control of a silent elevator, rolls backwards to stand—all without ever moving his hands from his belt. If watching this dancer glide through space is satisfying, then watching him go through a rapid-fire gesture series while rooted in place—like watching a film of the average city-dweller’s day at high-speed, complete with office work, smoke breaks, and draining cups of coffee—is equally engaging, if not more so. The solo section ends with McAboy back where he began, fake smile in place, head bobbing side to side as the lights fade.

Nico Gonzales, Mariel Harris, and Jared McAboy in Kool Kids.

Nico Gonzales, Mariel Harris, and Jared McAboy in Kool Kids.

It’s an ending, but only of a chapter, not the story. The lights fade back in to reveal two additional figures framing McAboy on either side. Mariel Harris and Nico Gonzales are imitating McAboy exactly, right down to sartorial choices (blue jeans, button downs, bow ties), so it’s understandable when he turns to see what’s happening behind him and then breaks the fourth wall to look at the audience as though to ask, “Are you guys seeing this?” He moves, they follow. He runs offstage and they chase him, only to reappear a moment after he does. McAboy struts around the stage, casual kick-ball-changes and shoulder shimmying imitated, then mocked when his head is turned.

This kind of comedy can very easily shift into caricature, and it does come close as the imitation shifts from weird to flattering to mocking, but the performers take the world they are in seriously, allowing space for the audience to find their antics funny without forcing the reaction. Bhargava has an excellent knack for pacing, and the dancers (particularly Gonzales) have razor sharp instincts when it comes to comedic timing. When McAboy whips out his green bandana to wipe his brow, Harris and Gonzales pull up short, arguing with each other about the missing accessory before chasing each other offstage to McAboy’s self-satisfied amusement. They return and suddenly we’re in an old Western, the duo simultaneously fastening bandanas around their brows with the utmost gravity, as though getting ready for a shootout.

 

Kool Kids. Photo by Ezra Goh Photography, Courtesy Rovaco.

Rovaco Dance Company in Kool Kids.

That is more or less what we get, upbeat music accompanying fluid partnering for the three dancers, the architecture of which was quite impressive in that Harris and Gonzales were able to maintain their twin-like relationship without the material remaining solely in the realm of two versus one tactics. Harris flies into the men’s arms, then slithers to take her own weight—just in time to catch Gonzales in a dive for the floor that is reversed until he ends up on McAboy’s shoulder. Later Gonzales succeeds in snatching the coveted green bandana from McAboy, eliciting guffaws with his spot-on imitation of McAboy’s brow wipe. They chase each other in circles, the bandana passing to Harris who looks terrified as the action freezes for a second (think old Scooby Doo cartoons) before the circle reverses itself. This evolves into solos, Harris causing several jaws to drop when the bandana flutters to the floor and she does an easy quadruple pirouette to drop into a split next to it. The movement becomes something that is paradoxically old-fashioned yet undeniably sexy, the three ultimately coming together for a breathless, exuberant unison section that is built from the solo phrasework. It ends only when the music does, the three collapsed on their backs, a foot stretched in the air.

Jared McAboy, Mariel Harris, and Nico Gonzales in Kool Kids.

Jared McAboy, Mariel Harris, and Nico Gonzales in Kool Kids.

Next on the program is Havas, a duet between McAboy and Harris that is excerpted from Azadi, a longer work the company premiered at the beginning of the summer. Taken on its own, the intimacy and power of this duet became somehow even more pronounced. It begins with McAboy standing behind Harris under a spotlight, his hand on her shoulder. She flinches away, startled, when he presses a kiss against her neck; a moment later she’ll peck him on the lips and pull away as though surprised at herself, and then the dancing begins in earnest.

 

Jared McAboy and Mariel Harris in Havas.

Jared McAboy and Mariel Harris in Havas.

Harris and McAboy are well matched technically, making complex movements seem simple and clear. They slide across the floor, use one hand to support their weight as they flip, feet over head to stand. Harris drops her head to one knee, the other leg arcing across the sky, and as she swoops to standing McAboy catches her hand, letting her prolong her off-balance rotation as their eyes meet and hold. Athletic movement distills the act of living, and of getting to know through life, into moments of synchronicity and counterpoint. He kneels over her legs, offers his hands. Their elbows, wrists meet and part as they dance with their upper bodies only, twining and intertwining. Later, she confronts him, nearly tackling him, giving him her weight in an act as luxurious as it is daring; they dance side by side, they pause, kneeling with their hands outstretched as they face upstage. They look to one another, then sway in an embrace at the center, movements sensual and almost frantic as the lights slowly fade. McAboy and Harris give nuanced, honest performances, letting the way they relate to one another physically do most of the talking. This duet works because Bhargava provides enough information to illustrate the emotions motivating their actions, but leaves the details open so that the audience can find their own way into the relationship.

 

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Nico Gonzales in The Devil's Advocate.

Nico Gonzales in The Devil’s Advocate.

The program concludes with The Devil’s Advocate, a knockout solo for Gonzales that brought down the house when it was first performed as a commission from Mare Nostrum Elements. We watch as Gonzales dresses in a suit and tie, grabs his briefcase, and proceeds to lose his mind. He fights with something inside himself and whatever forces the briefcase exudes; he strips out of his clothes and then begins pulling pack after pack of playing cards out of the briefcase. His exquisite contemporary dance technique only reinforces the character’s unraveling. The piece is a fantastic vehicle for Gonzales’s abilities as a performer, a subtle intensity of surprising power, and is perhaps even more effective in as intimate a space as Paradise Factory.

 

Overall, the program was entertaining across the board without sacrificing strong composition and challenging movement. It was emotionally compelling and varied, and it was refreshing to get a series of moderate length, well-structured pieces in a relatively close time frame. I look forward to Bhargava challenging himself to invest the same level of commitment and invention in longer, more ambitious works. Given their current trajectory, it seems that Rovaco’s performances later this autumn will be well worth keeping an eye on.

Images from Kool Kids and Havas by Ezra Goh Photography. Images from The Devil’s Advocate by Gisella Sorrentino/Gaze Photography. All Courtesy Rovaco.

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Courtney Escoyne is an assistant editor and contributor at Dance Magazine. A recent graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Dance, her writing can also be read in Pointe and on her blog, Thoughts From a Ballet Nerd.