“Aktun Spukil” (deer neck) is Mexican-born Ofelia Loret de Mola’s new evening-length dance which had a run at Soho Joyce September 14-16. The title is also the name of a complex of caves in Yucatán, Mexico where the Maya hid to escape slavery. “For them, to be free was to hide,” de Mola’s aunt Teresa Loret de Mola told me after the show. In the small, dark spaces the fugitives moved around the cave’s constricting obstructions, as if through a bottleneck, in their struggle to be free.
Yucatán-based Teresa Loret de Mola with Marielena Jorge created the large airy forms that hang at the edges of the performing area. Several on the left are clusters of colored plastic that recall Mexican skirts. A white one on the right suggests a god. “Shaman or xmen,” de Mola confirmed. These puffy anomalies offset the reality portrayed in the dancers’ humbling journey in Julie Ana Dobo’s golden light. Cori Kresge designed the brown form-fitting dresses with cutouts and gauzy sections that allow their stretched, energetic dance.
Two macramé-style constructions that are tethered to the upper forward corners of the performing area function as props, made to close in on the dancers bodies like the tubular passages in the caves. Colleen Cintron and de Mola (Ofelia) sit engulfed in the mass of cloth ribbons to our right and left. As they move toward center stage, stretching the tethers, Cori Kresge and Elisenda Nadal enter in one extended body of multicolored ribbons. Pulling and pushing, stretching the open weave of the tangled strands, they reach for Cintron and de Mola, who are engaged in their own struggles.
Gathered in a quartet and dancing to a faster beat in the score, they then retreat off stage. Their journey continues through the magic of Ray Roy’s videography on the cyclorama—pieced together footage of jumbled muddy legs, brashly lit, maneuvering through the actual Aktun Spukil caves.
The dancers return to a projected scene of red horizon over a mountainous dark. From upside down in handstands or sitting, they scope the terrain, acclimating to their newfound freedom; their faces are intent, blank. Hands move involuntarily, Cintron reels with her arms out as if to spread the edges of her personal space. They slap their thighs as if to say, “Golly.” Nadal, open-mouthed, remembers the pain. They hold each other, singing, moaning.
A fast, militaristic routine of lying down and getting up ensues. A pendulum of opposing movement in a compact foursome closes in claustrophobically, then splits; couples swing around holding on to each other with ultimate trust.
In a vertical line Nadal pushes back against the others. Their arms wave. This is the second of two very engaging sections that stand out promisingly in the dance’s familiar modern/contemporary lexicon, impressively impassioned solos, and the movement’s monochromatic mood. The expression is piercing and slow to change, as if we are accompanying the dancers through centuries of oppression.
Some don’t make it. Kresge is carried out and Nadal collapses after staring at us with her watery kohl outlined eyes. But the group gets up shakily, pushing each other down and getting in each other’s way. They sing and moan and the music picks up their song. A sound of laughter rings eerily from the score, which is an apt mix of music by Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, Japanese Kodo, Violeta Parra, Iannis Xenakis. The dancers respond to it with few surprises.
In an otherworldly coda, their moves are more expansive, their interaction cozier, less desperate. They take turns standing on their hands with their back to us and supported by the others—while a bright light shines from the xmen.
Following the group on this inspired journey, we share in their release—whatever our shackles. “Aktun Spukil” is the first full evening work for the three-year-old company de Mola calls “danscores by Ofelia Loret de Mola.”