Yesterday was my birthday and I could not have wished for a better present than Ana Mendez’s dance piece, “Tribute: A Summoning,” which as the program notes explain is based on the life and recorded sounds of Joe Meek. Since I’m usually celebrating that day, I guess the knowledge never stuck that pioneer pop music producer Joe Meek shot his landlady and himself on February 3, 1967 (the year I was born!). Or that his contemporary Buddy Holly, as well as a number of other rock and roll pioneers, went down in a plane on that day in 1959. Oh, February 3, so full of life and death.
And, over at The Center for Visual Communication last night, so full of distortion and dance. Mendez has long been my favorite dancer in Miami. A compact ball of ferocity, she sets the stage on fire. She’s embodied poetry for Giovanni Luquini, shed her clothes for Ray Sullivan, practically swallowed a potato for Octavio Campos, and — in one of her most thrilling turns — been dipped by handsome men into a series of birthday cakes in Rosie Herrera’s “Drown.”
So I was not surprised by the humor and intensity in her choreography. “Tribute” opened with Mendez summoning Meek, her face and body hidden, her hands poking through a curtain of analog recording tape as she manipulated a steady drone from a therimin. Then six male musician/dancers impersonated the stylish Brit. Wearing identical black suits and skinny ties, they opened as a band, playing an eerie, deconstructed cover of Meek’s “Johnny Remember Me” (a hit in the UK in 1961). Then also-black-suited sound artist Richard Vergez took his perch in a makeshift sound studio on a scaffold, reinventing Meek’s legendary album “I Hear a New World” as a sound installation.
The dancers trembled and shook. They collapsed and climbed over each other. They embraced and slipped apart. All the while the audience waited. When, if ever, would Mendez reappear. Finally, when it seemed she had disappeared forever into the compressed sound, she burst from the tape curtain and slashed her way through her phalanx of men. Dressed in a white, Grecian gown, she evoked the spirit of the early pioneers of modern dance like Ruth St. Denis and Isodora Duncan. But her movement was all explosion and violence, a desperate determination to break free of the men’s cool pop facades. And then all too suddenly it was over.
I hope I don’t have to wait for February 3 to roll around to see Mendez summon her power again.