A dance of longing, nostalgia and waiting took place at MOVO, an artist-run studio space in the Ivy Arts Building in Minneapolis on Friday and Saturday. Dancer/choreographer José A. Luis captivated an intimate, masked audience with his latest work, "Solo W/You."
Born in Veracruz, Mexico, and raised in Wisconsin, Luis was based in Chicago before making Minnesota his home. He has recently been an artist in residence at MOVO, which has south-facing windows. Before the show started, the setting sun spilled in through the window panes onto the dance floor, setting a contemplative mood for the performance.
The 45-minute performance was composed of eight smaller pieces that transitioned nicely in and out of one another, and so that it felt like one journey. Some of the elements were created before the pandemic, but as a whole it felt very much a piece of the moment. The work reflected on all of the loneliness, loss and transformation that has occurred in recent times of extended isolation.
Luis performed solo in the work, with his only scene partner being the sound design, created by Luis and a few other collaborators. Composer Sean Ellis Hussey's score for "Undertow" evoked the sound of a being at sea, where the anxious pendulum created by Luis' movements stirred up a sense of being lost.
Often the music was set at a low volume, and so you could hear the dancer's labored breath, the squeak of his body against the marley and the creak of the floorboards. At the beginning, it was unclear whether the disconcerting cracking sound came from Luis's own body or from the floor beneath him.
This wasn't an elaborately designed piece. There were only a few stark lights, and the stage setting was bare. The simplicity of the visual components and the proximity of the small audience made for an almost cinematic experience.
Luis danced with grace and athleticism, and with subtlety and acting prowess. Employing text in English and Spanish, he took the audience on a journey that soared across land and water, and brought back on memories of loved ones as the persona he was playing grew within him.
Luis' shifts in rhythm and energy, as a dancer, storyteller and poet, helped to create a sense of spontaneity. His vulnerability, humor and sometimes danger were revealed as the audience peeked inside his internal mind.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts journalist and critic.