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Sound Effect

Sometimes there’s not much you’re able to say analytically about a dance work, and yet you know you’ve just witnessed a blood-guts-and-soul offering from an artist of the keenest kinaesthetic intelligence. Such was the case with gizeh muñiz vengel’s “auiga,” second on a double bill finale for the ARC Edge residency at San Francisco’s CounterPulse.

Performance

“Augia” by gizeh muñiz vengel in collaboration with Ernesto Peart Falcón and grisel gg torres

Place

CounterPulse, San Francisco, CA, June 15, 2024

Words

Rachel Howard

Gizeh muñiz vengel and Ernesto Peart Falcón “augia” by vengel. Photograph by Robbie Sweeny

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Self-identifying as Mexicana, residing in Oakland, vengel’s name pops up everywhere on the Bay Area experimental dance scene: She is a resident artist at Push Dance Company and the aerial group Bandaloop, in addition to curating and producing the annual KH Fresh Festival, which carries on the legacy of the unforgettable dancer and curator Kathleen Hermesdorf in a most wonderfully unpredictable fashion. For “auiga,” vengel offers this director’s note: “Our sound and movement research is a practice that centers the body as a channeler, a sacred fluid object that surrenders identity.” Few performances can live up to such promises, but “auiga” surpassed them.

“Auiga” begins with a disconcerting but not quite distressing sound of static—grisel gg torres’ audio, integral throughout—and a view of two bodies pressed against a white back wall. In the gulf between us viewers and these bodies lies a pile of earth in a canvas bag, several rocks, and two translucent white objects that later reveal themselves to be large ice cubes. As Jessi Barber’s lighting brightens, the static cuts and then builds again, and we see that the bodies on the wall are covered tight with a plastic sheet, their flesh and faces muted in a way that makes them resemble human remains encased in permafrost.

grisel gg torres in “augia” by vengel. Photograph by Robbie Sweeny

Vengel and Ernesto Peart Falcón hold a bright light between them, and in their shiftings from one clinging posture to another, the energy breaks through their bodies in a vector of sudden illumination, like the cosmos itself bursting open. As a rumble intensifies and the bodies begin to stretch, the image is thrillingly ambiguous, simultaneously calling to mind a young couple awakening in bed and an egg membrane stretching with the first instinctual, mysterious stirrings of life.

When the bodies suddenly break through the plastic, first sitting on the floor, then crawling sideways and tearing the plastic down, their clothing becomes discernible. Both are wearing translucent t-shirts and tights with leotard bottoms in the palest of pastels. Vengel has an open face, guileless, her thighs vulnerable as the tights rip; Falcón is a tall and solidly muscled dancer, Superman in soft hues. A persistent beeping like a medical device takes over as she cradles him and they collapse.

The morphings and grapplings that follow on the floor are so riveting as to tempt one to offer real-time description. Much of the movement is built on the two crawling over one another, but as they do so the intensity of their concentration never fades, and their positions achieve a strangely spectacular fascination: equally organic and unnatural. In one passage, vengel carries the rock across the stage; in another, the two suddenly flop belly down upon the ice and slide around the floor. Eventually Falcón slides his feet to the pile of dirt, pulling it towards himself with his toes (feet are as intentional as hands throughout this whole work). For anyone concerned about climate change, the resonances of this image are painfully relevant: all that ice crackling and cracking, followed by so much effort required just to ground one’s feet into the earth again. A primordial human tragedy in capsule.

Gizeh muñiz vengel and Ernesto Peart Falcón “augia” by vengel. Photograph by Robbie Sweeny

When the two dancers finally stand again, there’s a terrific duet of Falcón holding vengel from beneath the armpits, slapping her arms around; somehow, it’s not violent but tender. Torres appears on a balcony shining a light that leads the two to the rock, where they squat like frogs, fleeing again to the ice, their faces nuzzling, and at last swept up by a stark beat, grooving synthesizers, and a final pilgrimage back to the dirt, where torres sits, her singing beckoning.

What does it all mean? What can we pick apart symbolically, the better to reassure ourselves we haven’t missed “the point”? I want to believe that “auiga” means exactly itself—the movement, the sound, the experience itself, with all its echoes and resonances. I’m assured here by an explanation of the title. As I began writing this review, I researched the word “auiga,” half-expecting and half-dreading that it would function as a conceptual key. Was it Spanish? Apparently not. Was it a deliberate mutation of “Auriga,” the constellation in the Northern celestial hemisphere anchored by the sixth brightest star in the sky and named for a mythological charioteer? Again, no.

Reaching out to the artists, I received an answer from the sound designer, torres. “Auiga”—pronounced ah wee gah with a hard G, torres clarified—“is a word we made up. It’s a sound like when a baby finds its first guttural vocalizations.”

The explanation could not feel more right.

Rachel Howard


Rachel Howard is the former lead dance critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. Her dance writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Hudson Review, Ballet Review, San Francisco Magazine and Dance Magazine.

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