• Christopher Soden

Review: 'Paper Piel' at Teatro Dallas

Paper Piel was featured as part of the 19th International Performance Festival, hosted by Teatro Dallas at the Latino Cultural Center. A collaboration between Jimena Bermejo and Chris Brokaw, Paper Piel (meaning “paper skin”) is experimental performance, engaging Brokaw’s guitar music and Bermejo’s choreography.

Moving Guitars presented Bermejo, with her long, flowing black hair, and Brokaw, rangy and relaxed, jamming on electric steel guitars, as they explored spatial connections to each other. That is to say, they plant themselves, in a series of physical relationships, in tandem. Nothing oddball. She might stand close to him, or further away. She might be behind him, or on his left. He might occupy the dominant stance between them or it might be her. Sometimes the music was raucous, but harmonious. Other times wildly discordant and cacophonous. Keep in mind that (considering their choice of instrument) practically little nuance was available. Positions changed. The way music from both instruments intertwined or fought, with jarring, ear splitting truculence, also changed.

Paper Piel at Teatro Dallas | Photo: Teatro Dallas

By contrast, I’m the Only One felt less contentious, in its consideration of male/female energy. There was a tender sweetness to Brokaw’s melody. A song that was nearly a lullaby. Rather than the previous black clothing, they were dressed in gentle pastel. Again the two create a succession of ways to interact with each other’s bodies, but this time there is touching. Distance is almost non-existent. Bermejo encircles Brokaw, confidently involving herself with him. While his role is consistently passive. She reaches through his arms as if to suggest that he has two pairs of hands. She places them on his back, his chest, his shoulders, intermittently, but nothing erotic. Sometimes she plays the guitar instead of him, though he never adjusts his body to accommodate her. But neither does he push her away. Perhaps this piece reflects on symbiosis, and blurring boundaries between entities.

Paper Piel starts with a film on a very large screen. Two long male legs with bare feet, stand while paper scraps fall slowly to the ground, piling up. You get the feeling he’s naked, but we don’t know. This surreal stretch of lazily dropping, bits of torn paper, goes on awhile. Bermejo emerges wearing something fairly casual, holding a luminous lamp made from paper, pushing a roll of fairly wide, white paper, with a foot. She begins to respond to the paper, wrapping herself, tearing it, concealing herself, holding it over her head and dancing with and into it. She cavorts with butcher paper as medium. It might be snowdrifts, or enormous bandages or huge gobs of whipped cream. Now the film returns and we see two female hands, holding the scraps, then releasing them. Next Bermejo and Brokaw chaotically unspool great lengths of the paper ( like Blue Man Group? ) sailing it into the audience, while we respond with paper airplanes set out as the audience was seated. Much boisterous play was sparked, folks hoisting and heaving and laughing as they wielded the strange onslaught of enormous paper “snakes”.

Paper Piel is a contemplative, somewhat minimal, insouciant evening of three pieces that on one level, perhaps, examines the intersection of male and female energy throughout. Even in the last vignette, which suggests other gender connection in the film, and more broadly in Brokaw’s musical accompaniment. Like any good theatrical work, movement, blocking, sound, converge to trigger inference and tap into the cosmos each audience member brings to the proceedings.

Paper Piel sometimes felt improvisational, sometimes deliberate, sometimes arbitrary. Possibly the intention was to create a kind of womb or matrix, from which an exhilarating rush of kinetic expression might spring. I wasn’t sure if what happened was by design, or contingent on impulse. Focus is of course, crucial, but for me, I longed for spontaneity. I suppose any live narrative is a fusion of intention and intuition, but some kind of effulgence, some kind of fizzy, breathing sentience must inform the sacraments we witness. Earlier I mentioned Blue Man Group, and whether or not Paper Piel is meant to be a dialogue with them, it seems to beg comparison. Blue Man is a spoof of performance art, just when you think its going for something truly bizarre or extraterrestial, it breaks out into stuff and nonsense. The guys are infected by a sudden case of the whimsical, and they contaminate us, too. Paper Piel has conviviality and some of the strangeness of Blue Man, but needs more of their steadfast resolve, to resist loftiness at any cost.

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