Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Saving the best for last

After a rocky show, the energy of `Salome'busted loose only in the encore

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Salome was a hit at the end.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KHAM

It's rare to recommend the end of a concert, but it was the best thing about Aida Gomez Theater Dance Company's Salome, a Spanish romp through the biblical tale of breaking taboos, at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館), in Taipei on Saturday night.

After a terrible start, a cumbersome middle and an exciting end, the final curtain surprisingly prompted an exuberant appreciation of the cast's efforts.

At first the audience clapped politely rather than with great enthusiasm at the conclusion of the performance. But then it found a rhythm and individual performers were inspired to do some impromptu dancing.

Once it started, the next dancer wanted to outdo his predecessor, until Nicolas Philippe Maire (St John the Baptist), a Royal Ballet School graduate, practically stole the show with some sweeping moves and dramatic extensions.

It was riveting stuff, and most of the crowd stood in appreciation, clapping all the time, engaged by the spontaneity of the dancers, who were equally lifted by the audience's participation.

But to begin at the beginning.

Clearly there was not enough material in Salome for a two-part show, so the first half consisted of a seemingly unconnected series of tableaux, presumably intended to show off Spanish flamenco in its purest form, with just dancers and mainly piped guitar music.

You could see everyone who did not buy a program looking at each other, thinking, "Is this the story of Salome?" It wasn't.

Throughout the entire 30 minutes of the first act, latecomers filtered into the auditorium, disrupting the dancers' concentration and irritating those already seated.

It was a horrible start to the show, which promised high production value, Spanish dancing from a legend of the flamenco stage and the staging of the Salome story by renowned director Carlos Saura -- famed for his film version of Georges Bizet's Carmen.

Whether it was because of the heated argument between organizers during the break or the fact that everyone had at last arrived, 45 minutes after the start, but the doors stayed firmly closed during the second half of the performance. The theater-goers who arrived late were presumably the same ones who tried to leave early, but were not allowed out.

On a side note, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall should come up with a policy of being firm with late arrivals and give them a comfy seat from which to watch the show on TV monitors, outside the auditorium. This is standard practice elsewhere.

The main entertainment, Salome, was Riverdance for latin culture fetishists, with tap dancing and the addition of archetypal flamenco poses (arched backs, jutting butts, arms and hands outstretched).

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it took a while for the performers to warm up and there were some jarring moments. The music veered from latin to eastern to Hollywood's Curse of the Pharaoh; Herod was pushed around the stage in a barely converted wheelchair meant to represent his throne; and overall, the stage was too big for the relatively small cast of 16 dancers. The lighting was unremarkable, except for the strobe spotlights in one of the scenes.

Still, there was dramatic tension and it came to a head with the Dance of the Seven Veils, by Aida Gomez, one of Spain's most famous dancers and the founder of her eponymous company. The solo climaxed with Gomez baring all.

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