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‘Dancing on Her Knees’ by Nilo Cruz Opens Off-Broadway

March 1, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ There are some lovely, haunting images in ``Dancing on Her Knees,″ Nilo Cruz’s arty dance-drama about life and death, but they are not enough to sustain a whole evening.

Those moments evaporate quickly, done in by a fuzzy fable that director Graciela Daniele and a hard-working cast can’t seem to clarify or, more importantly, make interesting.

The production, which opened Thursday at off-Broadway’s Joseph Papp Public Theater, lasts only 90 minutes. It seems much longer.

The time is Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day, in the late 1980s; the place, Miami Beach. Francine, a drag queen, is remembering his dead lover. The dearly departed doesn’t materialize. Instead, we have a visit by Federico and Ramona, a Latin dance team, waiting for their journey back to the Other Side.

The two dancers are followed by a pair of sprites, ethereal creatures described by the playwright as Caretakers. These odd guardian angels, dressed in white, skin-tight acrobatic outfits, look like refugees from Cirque du Soleil. Their aimless banter quickly becomes annoying.

Also making an appearance is a mild-mannered European umbrella maker named Matthias, searching for his long-missing wife. He doesn’t find her. Henry Stram, who resembles a figure in a Magritte painting, suggests a poignancy that’s not found in the text.

It is never clear what Cruz is driving at, although the plot is sprinkled with such theme-thumping lines as: ``To live is to dance with death″; and, ``Things inside the chest have to be dusted, too. Have to take a broom and sweep the heart.″

Instead, the audience is subjected to a series of arguments, mostly between Federico and Ramona, bickering about their dance career. Their verbal assaults are interrupted by those pesky angels who just don’t know when to quit bothering them.

Luis Antonio Ramos gives a brash, unsubtle performance as the flamboyant Francine. Julio Monge and Marianne Filali are convincingly athletic as the hyperkinetic creatures. And Franca Barchiesi and Paul Calderon tango intriguingly as the famous dance couple.

One wishes that Daniele were not so stingy in setting this show in motion. Dancing is what this oddball play is about _ and it is curiously short-changed here.

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