For the past several months, I have repeatedly lamented the dearth of inventive and compelling dance – preferably without an intense display of nudity. I am pleased to announce that I have found a piece of dance theater worthy of my comprehensive recommendation: Rosie Herrera’s Dining Alone. This 50-minute ensemble piece, which dissects the emotional facets of dining out, was compelling, innovative and alternately hugely comedic and poignant.

Katie Stirman, Ivonne Batanero © Julia Cervantes
Katie Stirman, Ivonne Batanero
© Julia Cervantes

I knew I was in for a rare treat when I sat down to observe a dinner party table full of life-size people cut-outs and one actual human (the occasionally campy but mostly divine Octavio Campos) enjoying a meal at the head of table – while pianist Fernando Landeros tinkled out “Part of Your World” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. ThIs elaborate setup was immediately dismantled (somewhat to my dismay – it seemed a bit wasteful), and Mr Campos cackled madly and raced around the stage with a makeshift cape as “All by Myself” blared. I found myself cackling at the immediate absurdity.

Ms Herrera certainly owes much to Pina Bausch, but there is something appealingly more irreverent in her approach. Three women unexpectedly dove face-first into cream pies, whipping cream-laden hair around as Snow White crooned “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The performer dressed as a waiter began polishing silverware and unexpectedly did some of his own crooning – an aria. A man sat down to dinner with his female companion only to begin twirling her hair as if it were spaghetti, with “So This Is Love” as accompaniment. (One of Ms Herrera’s greatest strengths is her pairing of movement and scenarios with popular music in an unexpectedly ironic way. In another’s hands, this could have easily become gimmicky.)

But despite her apparent knack for comedy, I really think Ms Herrera succeeds in the realm of quiet and sad. A stunningly beautiful sequence between Liony Garcia and Ivonne Batanero, in which he placed plates before her feet in a well-lit upstage left diagonal, felt sweetly tentative and genuine. Ms Batanero’s solo which immediately followed made the accompanying “Clair de lune” feel fresh again, especially when she flicked only the tips of her nicely articulate fingers. This section was later reprised wonderfully with Melissa Toogood – Ms Batanero and Mr. Garcia helped her skate along the wooden floor with enviable ease and a believable sense of surprise at Ms Toogood’s sudden, diving penchees and lunges.

Really, I’ve never seen plates look more beautiful or seem more useful in a dance. A quietly stunning ending sequence involved the cast rolling the plates out on their edges from the wings, unseen; I found myself fascinated by the plates’ paths and journeys to stillness.

There were precious few missteps. One featured Mr Campos wearing only a completely open-back dress and fluttering around the stage, and the other was a well-danced but out-of-place duet for Mr Garcia and Leah Verier-Dunn. (Ms Verier-Dunn’s stage time was much less than that of the others, which made me wonder if her part were a late addition.)

But I left the theater feeling newly rejuvenated about the state of dance in performance – and this was a dance theater piece, no less! Ms Herrera has a firm handle on just how much “dance” needs to be included, it appears, and I will continue to trust her judgment.

*****