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A CurtainUp Review

By David Lipfert

Expectations are high upon entering BAM's Bigtop just south of Battery Park City. Minimal illumination is enough to reach the right seat and notice the group of Korean traditional musicians occupying one section. After a blackout, the lights come up to reveal a figure curled under yards and yards of carefully folded black cloth that extends over the large circular central area. Slowly the dancer emerges from under; gradually his long arms trace broad, elegant designs in the air.

This is but the first of many striking images in Zingaro's equestrian theater piece Eclipse. Soon the horses appear, either singly or in pairs, mostly black or white. Their riders do everything except sit atop in the customary fashion. Two women in flowing pants take turns standing or seated cross- legged on a single galloping spotted horse. The men do nifty balances on their horses' backs or simply hang inverted from the side, motionless for what seems an eternity. These gymnasts offer Olympic-class performances using living rather than inanimate horses.

Near the end of the program, three men of roughly equal stature jump on and off a sturdy dark horse as though it were the easiest thing in the world. Attired in white outfits and turbans, they mount and dismount with aplomb. The audience reserves its most generous applause for these three now standing together on their accelerating companion.

Bartabas regales with the intimacy he has with each of a succession of horses. Delicate sidesteps, turning on a dime or rearing on cue are no problem. In one scene he is enveloped in a shirred black robe astride a magnificent white horse. Concealed rods extend beyond his arms to create the effect of wings, which he serenely folds and unfolds.

Equally memorable are moments with a riderless horse on the charcoal track circling a dancer/performer in the white center ring. The perfect counterbalance of horse to human movement creates a lyrical mood. What better reward for a job well done than a handy carrot at the end of the scene?

All the while, six musicians produce spare almost plaintive sounds using a variety of strings and winds with percussion. Dressed in white robes and wearing black hats with large brims, they complete the visual scheme for the evening. At intervals Pansori singer YooJin Chung emits what might be described as Korean soul music. Sounds from deep in the chest are seasoned with high-pitched wails. For all the rarity of hearing top-rate exponents of this style, it is definitely an acquired taste.

The oriental theme --either Korean or generalized Far East-- is underlined by the costumes, which become increasingly become "designer" efforts as the evening progresses. A superb lighting design creates the right amount of mystery for each segment.

This is a very particular form of non-verbal theater, perhaps most akin to the earliest examples of performance art that centered more on the visual than in its current multimedia phase. Throw in the horses with the occasional snort and the space pulsates with life. The images in Eclipse are as enigmatic as they are beautiful.

Eclipse has more sobriety than the more crowd-pleasing stunts of the first Zingaro show in New York two years ago, (Chimère), but also many moments of true sublimity. The Rajastan theme certainly offered a more colorful starting point for the costumes and music.

To the ancients, eclipses induced fear and preceded calamitous events. Artistic director Bartabas instead offers a dazzling visual essay on the essence of white and black-opposites that are eternally paired, like night and day or male and female.

Guaranteed you will never see horses in the same way ever again.

ECLIPSE Equestrian Theater by Zingaro
Conception and Artistic Direction: Bartabas
With: Julio Arozarena, Bartabas, Nathalie Barot, Manuel Bigarnet, Catherine Bosch, Abderrahaman El Bahjaoul, Laure Guillaume, Magali Huercio, Pierrick Morean, Pénélope Purtell, Etienne Regnier, Quincella Swyningan, Aïcha Touré, Messaoud Zeggane
Pansori Singer: YooJin Chung
Musicians: Jong Lak Roh, Sung Su Han, In Tae Kim, Sean Jea Kim, Dae Geu Lee, Kee Young Nam
Horses: Brosok, Diktor, Djinn, Dombay, Domino, Donor, Edwin, El Chulo, Felix, Gamo, Horizonte, Jard, latrec, Meaoula, Orlof, Otlliv, Picasso, Quixotte, Ryton Regent, Sold'Oa, Sultan, Terminator, Vinagre, Xantos, Xérés, Zingaro. Costumes: Marie-Laurence Schakmundes
Make-up: Isabelle Guillaume
Wigs: Les Marandino
Costumes for the horses: Yannick Laisné, Jocelyn Petot, Max Soulignac
BAM Bigtop at Battery Park City
Ticket information: (718) 636-4100 -- Performances through 11/1/98
Running time is about two hours

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