Alzheimer’s disease is a slow-moving illness that now affects over 50 million families worldwide. It has been labeled the disease of the living dead, as the patient is still alive but the person that everyone once knew and loved is no longer residing in that body. Rosanna Tavarez, who creates work under the moniker LA DANSA DANSA, has produced an evening-length work that investigates her grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, and its effects on her loved ones.

I have seen this piece titled Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts in two other iterations before it appeared this past weekend as part of Dance at the Odyssey festival, and although several wonderful new elements have been added, at times it appeared that Tavarez could not decide if her work was dance or dance theater. Sections with powerful images and metaphors were momentarily dropped and replaced with beautiful movement-based dancing. Tavarez and her colleague Marissa Moses were wonderful to watch in both, but the work as a complete story did not always hold together.

As the audience entered, a single silver wash tub, a symbol of manual household work, sat on the floor stage right. Tavarez and Moses entered as we hear the first recorded conversations describing Tavarez’s grandmother as hard working, devoted wife, mother of seven, independent and a no-nonsense person. One description stated was “She always had truth in her mouth.”

Tavarez used bright red yarn and knitted designs by Sarah Isenberg to identify the unraveling of her grandmother’s life as her memory began to fail her. Yarn unraveling from her wrists that took away her livelihood, red yarn that became a clothes line on which she once hung out hand washed clothes for her family, but that now she was the one being bathed in the wash tub. A knitted head covering that represented the unraveling of her mind. These were all strong and brilliant metaphors for how the disease was robbing her grandmother’s life, and pain to her those around her.

When Tavarez’s choreography clearly demonstrated the she, wearing red, and Moses in green were at times one and the same; or when their roles as mother and child reversed, Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts came across as a clear and dramatic story. There were projections of holes developing in the fabric of a mind and flashes on the screen and from the stage lights to represent the brain’s electrical circuits misfiring. Though subtle, these were inventive and dynamic additions to the work.

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Marissa Moses and Rosanna Tavarez in Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts - Photo by Vanessa Crocini

There was a technical problem with the sound that I do not remember when I saw an earlier version of this work, and that was that at times I had a difficult time understanding the conversation between, I assume, Tavarez and an aunt over the telephone. Parts of the conversation were projected on the screen but did not appear long enough to thoroughly comprehend.

The subject of this work was described as often appearing unloving to her children. This was beautifully portrayed in a short duet that took place with Tavarez seated on a wooden chair and Moses trying to be cradled in her lap. The woman clearly wanted to hold the child, but her tough love approach to rearing her children would not allow her that pleasure.

Another wonderful section found Tavarez wearing a man’s brown suit jacket performing in a tango with Moses. The jacket is then reversed on Tavarez and she dances a gorgeous solo. A life in reverse as short-term memory has vanished leaving only memories of long ago.

Hybrids of Plants and Ghost is a strong work and overall, I found it to be incredibly moving. My mind wandered (no pun intended), however, when Tavarez’s desire to simply dance took over the story.

The video design by Matthew G. Hill was a forceful addition to Hybrids of Plants and Ghost. His designs portrayed the inner workings of a diseased mind at work without screaming their purpose at us. I enjoyed how Suzy Goldish mixed together the wonderful Spanish songs with the recorded conversations, and the lighting by Derek Jones was striking.

Tavarez and Moses are both beautiful dancers and wonderful performers who work extremely well together except while dancing in unison. Moses was often a half beat behind, so closer attention needs to be paid to whether these were duets or two soloists working together but separate.

To learn more about Rosanna Tavarez, click here.

Dancing at the Odyssey continues this weekend with Kevin Williamson + Company. For information and tickets, click here.

Featured image: Rosanna Tavarez (seated) and Marissa Moses in Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts – Photo: Vanessa Crocini