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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: ODC presents Fanny Ara: LILITH, February 23-25, 2024, ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA

A woman possessed; an audience entranced; this is what remains at the end of a tempestuous hour with Fanny Ara’s Lilith. Is Ara actually a demon woman? I wonder as I depart a jubilant lobby reception into a warm evening. A full moon illuminates the city. It is as if even the world of grey drippy February days has been transformed by Ara’s sorcery.


The mythology of Lilith, a woman whose insistence on self-determination and sexual liberation threatens man’s natural order, resonates powerfully in a world where a women’s reproductive rights are being excised state by state.  Creating a Lilith for these complicated times, Ara uses experimental and improvisational flamenco to draw her own driving path to deliverance. The mood is intense from start to finish. Even when Ara pauses to contemplatively play the piano, her back to us, her unpredictability holds us in her thrall.


The trajectory of Lilith follows an arc from birth through explorations of identity including: the childhood world of pretend, a nuanced development of sexuality and the hard-fought liberation of mature adulthood. Emotion is the flame under the entire endeavor.  Ara’s eyes are penetrating, gaging our worthiness.  Flirting with abandon, she demands our focus, earning it with her regal demeanor, syncopated stomping feet and gorgeous movement, as carriage, arms, and fingers articulate the finer points of each dynamic pose.


For the entire hour Ara is fully-present, fiery, sultry, and defiant.  She never speaks, yet her expressive face speaks volumes.  Unfortunately, the angular lighting obscures our ability to read her expressions clearly, which is a loss.   


Lilith choreographer and dancer Fanny Ara bows with Music Director Gonazalo Grau; Photo: J. Norris


Ara is joined by pianist Vardan Ovsepian and Lilith Music Director Gonzalo Grau playing keyboard and cello. The soundscore melds onstage instrumentation, Ara’s commanding footstrikes, and electronically-processed atmospheric sounds. The high-volume level is both immersive and overwhelming.  Dancing on a linoleum floor rather than on wood, means the danced rhythms are overpowered by the instrumentation.   Moving toward freedom, Ara takes to the microphone, rendering a shushing, sibilant sound. It isn’t a pleasant sound.  Is this the noise in her head, obscuring her true voice? A representation of the messy, noisy process of transformation?


A drumbeat builds forcefully as Ara strikes a pair of wooden rhythm sticks against the floor to the accompaniment of ephemeral strains of an otherworldly chorus, offering a sense a spiritual awakening.  Transcending this world in a flash of gold light, our final image is of Ara spinning slowly in the pose of a goddess from antiquity; with angular arms holding strong and face tilted upward, she is at peace.


Ara is credited as Lilith Artistic Director, Dancer, and Choreographer and displays true talents in all three realms. Her every gesture, prop, or costume contains a multitude of insights and experiences.


The imposingly long, heavily-flounced flamenco skirt which she initially drags behind her in a military crawl is rich in meaning, representing perhaps chains of expectation, a metaphorical umbilical cord, and/or the weighty legacy of female and flamenco traditions. Rising, Ara gathers the copious fabric in her hands and lifting her arms above her head, invents a cocoon, framing her face so it floats in a sea of black.


Emphasizing Ara’s evolution from darkness to light and life, costume designer Pamela Martinez contrasts sparkling metallic trims and linings with flat black fabrics. As Ara is reborn repeatedly throughout the show, animal imagery resonates. Segments suggest a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, a snake shedding its skin, and a bird born of a fringe cape’s swirling blurring form, as Ara speedily pirouettes.


Nothing is as it seems. Potential lurks everywhere.  Kneeling opposite each other, the musicians slide sticks across the stage in a lane of light, playing a trading game of shuffleboard.  One long rectangle settles at Ara’s feet, and as she picks it up, we recognize it is a closed fan.  A fan which then becomes a knife to cut a throat, or threaten a combatant, or whittle upon one’s knee.  Splayed open, the fan may play at being a hand mirror in which to touchup one’s makeup before strutting arrogantly into a room.  Such is the ingenuity and metaphoric richness of Ara’s world.  Her Lilith is a triumph of artistry and self-actualization.


Review by Jen Norris, published February 25, 2024

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Production Credits

ODC THEATER PRESENTS Fanny Ara: Lilith

FEBRUARY 23-25, 2024 ODC THEATER

Artistic Director/Dancer/Choreographer Fanny Ara

Musical Director/Keyboard/Cello Gonzalo Grau

Piano Vardan Ovsepian

Artistic Advisor Emilio Ochando

Costume Designer Pamela Martinez

Graphic Designer Padron & Co.

Poetry Muchacho Mandanga

Lighting Designer Matthew Antaky

Stage Manager Myriam Da Silva

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