Just as it was starting to get dark, the limited audience for Paradis was led across the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens into the Cherry Esplanade. We wandered through the wide lawn, lined with cherry trees, until we saw toward the back left—between the last few trees next to the wall separating the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens from the Brooklyn Museum’s parking lot— Michael Dauphinais playing softly on a lone white piano. It was a beautiful image, coming across him there, but the music he was creating live, which was intended to be a quiet and introspective accompaniment to the dance to come, couldn’t really be heard. That’s because the Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays event, a well-attended party with a live DJ spinning house music outdoors with plenty of speakers and a loud base, drown him out. When the white-clad dancers emerged against the deep green of the garden, the crowd tried to focus on the performance; one couldn’t help thinking, though, that they were having a whole lot more fun next door.
The choreographer, Yanira Castro, visibly dismayed about the situation, stopped the performance about halfway through: this was the right decision. The work might or might not have been successful without the sonic interruption—there was a confusing bit of audience interaction that at certain points felt forced, or over-acted, but one can’t be sure this wasn’t due to the dancers’ sense that they had to compete for our attention. Once they made their way in lovely leaps, diagonally criss-crossing the esplanade toward the audience, who milled about near the piano, the performers made their way into the crowd and worked individually wrought motions around and in front of each of us. Shayla-Vie Jenkins is such a lovely dancer that when she was near me, it was easy to bring my focus squarely to the moment and the energy of the bodies moving around bodies in the strange, dim light. Others were less engaging. In any case, it isn’t fair to review a work that had to be stopped mid-way through. This was a lesson in the dangers of site-specificity, and the frustrations of bad communication in institutional planning. The flip side, however, is clearly and happily: how bad can any evening in the empty Brooklyn Botanic Gardens ever really be? A bit of nature at dusk, for this city-dweller at least, can never be called a waste of time.print