During various sections of his six-part program at the Powerhouse Theatre on Thursday, Brazilian dancer-choreographer Ney Fonseca performed in leather, in overalls, in a hooded robe, a long Sufi-esque skirt, women's lingerie, Jockey shorts and even, briefly, nothing at all.
However, he looked completely free, relaxed and alive as a dancer only when doing fancy samba steps wearing a white linen suit and Carmen Miranda T-shirt. You can take the boy out of Rio, but . . . .
Costume changes and related role-playing are absolutely central to Fonseca's art--but dancing, alas, is not: The way he dresses or undresses tells you far more about the feelings he's trying to convey than the long passages of neatly crafted but empty ballet combinations in his solos.
He dances well enough technically but can't seem to get emotion into his body for very long--not even when he's supposed to be contemplating his own death from AIDS in "Turn Around" or offering a tribute to the late New York dance writer Barry Laine in "Saudade." When defining feelings through mime and everyday gesture, however, Fonseca can be superbly expressive: intelligent, passionate, outrageous all at once.
And his ironic insights about the gay community in San Francisco (his current home) are sharp enough to counterbalance the moments when he's way, way out of his depth: attempting in "Padded Walls," for instance, to match in motion the Callas recording of "Sola, perduta, abbandonata" from "Manon Lescaut." He should live so long . . . .
"Short Story" and "The Third Floor," his on-the-make duets with Christian Giorgi, are essentially the same piece--and grow really interesting only in their provocative final seconds. However, Giorgi proves more than just a solid performer: He manages to pull his partner's focus away from the pompous indulgence of the solos toward a grounded emotional base.
Of the more conventional dance challenges on the program, only the samba in "Rio Memories" makes Fonseca look this young, this real, this hotly energized.
* Presented by Highways, Ney Fonseca performs tonight at 8:30 and Sunday night at 7:30 in the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica. Tickets: $10. (213) 660-8587.