ArtsATL interviewed Palomino and Mitchell when the Cuban-born, Los Angeles-based choreographer was in residence with Kit Modus in September.
Palomino’s piece begins with an offering to engage and delight the senses followed by an invitation to join the dancers on stage as they give form to a carnivalesque world of wonder.
Some company directors might be nervous about breaching the fourth wall of the theater as Palomino does so completely in the new work — but not Mitchell. “I would never bring in a choreographer unless I trusted them completely,” she said. “I invite someone because I think they’re going to make something profoundly beautiful. The dancers and I want art; we want that experience of fully giving ourselves over to someone else’s vision.”
Palomino’s art includes commissioned works for dance companies, museums, film, immersive experience and live theater and has reached audiences nationally and internationally.
His choreography for “The Portal is Always Open” shares some qualities with Gaga and release technique but is nonetheless stunningly new. The movement is a felt, vibrant presence, filling each dancer’s body like breath.
Rather than initiating from one part of the body, each step seems to emerge from a gathering and release of tension in every joint at once. Explaining his technique, Palomino said: “Instead of thinking about their bodies doing the movement, I want dancers to feel the movement as something that happens in their bodies.”
This subtle distinction created a profound aesthetic difference. Imagine a collapsible push button puppet toy but with the fluid grace of an octopus.
During rehearsal, a dancer was standing tall, arms reaching wide, one leg extended slightly behind her. In the blink of an eye, moving almost soundlessly without any sense of heaviness, she was suddenly crouched near the floor.
That same total body engagement informed even the most pedestrian steps, the smallest flick of a wrist or tilt of a head. At the same time, the dancers’ gestures felt totally authentic, seemingly without any performative artifice.
In a conversation after a run-through, the dancers expressed excitement about sharing space with those members of the audience who will choose to immerse themselves physically in what is happening onstage.
“It feels like we’re throwing a big party for everyone,” said Gabby Gambino. “There’s an almost spiritual involvement with the people around you,” added Maile Griffith. According to Jacob Attaway, in addition to technical precision, “The Portal is Always Open” “demands a clarity of body language” so that audience participants will know how to engage, when to move and where to stand.
Mitchell and the company also talked about why the recorded, spoken-word invitation to join the dance repeats in the score: It reminds show-goers that the portals through which they step are “always open.”
If some people hesitate to join the dancers at first, they may gain courage from watching others. “Marco wanted to make sure that people feel comfortable,” said Emma Morris. “That’s one of the reasons we are offering them carnival masks to wear if they want, so they can feel anonymous or like they’re playing a role.”
As an audience member, to step through a portal onto the stage is to enter completely the world Palomino has created with the dancers. Throughout, repeated gestures — a secret whispered from one dancer to another, a finger pressed to the lips in a signal to hush, hand motions that mimic grasping, plucking and replacing an eyeball — create and invite curiosity.
While discussing his inspiration for “The Portal is Always Open,” Palomino took out his phone and pulled up images of family and friends who live in the small Cuban town where he grew up. “These people — they inspire me. In my movement, they are there.”
He indicated one photo. “This is one of my neighbors. When he walks, he walks like this.” Palomino demonstrated a regal saunter, with spine straight and head held high. “I begin with that, and then I imagine what it would look like, what steps he would do if he could dance.”
Palomino said the audience is free to remain at a distance while watching “The Portal,” like tourists, but they can also choose to be part of an intimate communal experience. “I am sharing something from my hometown, something I bring wherever I go,” he said. “The audience may never visit my home, but they will carry that part of it with them.”
Kit Modus: Mixed Rep
7:30 p.m. Nov. 17-18. The Windmill Arts Center, 2823 Church St., Atlanta. kitmodus.com.
Robin Wharton studied dance at the School of American Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, she was a member of the Newcomb Dance Company. In addition to a bachelor of arts in English from Tulane, Robin holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Georgia.
MEET OUR PARTNER
ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.