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Yanira Castro’s PARADIS is first site-specific dance project to be held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (photo by Kevin Kwan)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Desert House in the Steinhardt Conservatory and the Cherry Esplanade
1000 Washington Ave.
June 2-4, $20, 8:00/8:30

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is already one of New York City’s paradises, but on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, choreographer Yanira Castro will make it even more so. The Puerto Rican-born, Brooklyn-based Castro, who specializes in site-adaptable dance installations, is bringing her a canary torsi “organism” to the Desert House in the Steinhardt Conservatory and then on to the Cherry Esplanade for Paradis, the first site-specific dance project held at the century-old botanic garden. Inspired by the last part of Jean-Luc Godard’s 2004 film Notre Musique, the piece incorporates audience movement into the choreography, performed by nine dancers (Peggy Cheng, Simon Courchel, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Luke Miller, Peter Schmitz, Stuart Singer, Darrin Wright, Pamela Vail, and Kimberly Young), with live piano accompaniment by Michael Dauphinais and sound design by Stephan Moore. Presented by Dance Theater Workshop, Paradis is the follow-up to last fall’s Wilderness, a performance and audio installation that took place at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn. Paradis is scheduled for June 2 at 8:00, June 3 at 8:30, and June 4 at 8:00, and tickets are only $20, which is pretty cheap for your own piece of paradise.

Yanira Castro | a canary torsi celebrate the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in PARADIS (photo by Yi-Chun Wu)

Update: Yanira Castro’s Paradis does indeed turn out to be a piece of paradise. The audience of approximately sixty people first meets in the visitor center (be sure to go to the 1000 Washington St. entrance), then is led to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Steinhardt Conservatory, where they surround the outside of the Desert House. Inside, Peter Schmitz, dressed all in white with white face paint, stands still before slowly making his way around the cactus plants and trees, using herky-jerky motion, then moving faster, stopping to mime eating an apple, then erupting in off-key song, dancing and singing to tinny, lo-fi, scratchy piano music that pipes out of security guards’ walkie-talkies. Expanding his work with Castro on Wilderness, Schmitz evokes Adam in the Garden of Eden as well as Frankenstein’s monster and the Supreme Being as he learns to walk, talk, and eat. At the end of the solo, the audience is led in the dark to the wide expanse of the resplendently green Cherry Esplanade, where they come upon Michael Dauphinais playing the piano (sounding much better in person than over the walkie-talkies), playing an evolving score that is impacted by the presence of the crowd. Four huge spotlights illuminate the lawn as Peggy Cheng, Simon Courchel, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Luke Miller, Stuart Singer, Darrin Wright, Pamela Vail, and Kimberly Young emerge in the distance, frolicking across the grass and eventually weaving through the crowd, who can sit or stand wherever they want. After being selected to follow a particular dancer, the audience segments into groups that end up watching a deeply intimate, thrillingly erotic duet. Inspired very directly by the “Paradis” section of Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique, Castro’s Paradis feels like it grew organically out of the ground (or descended from the heavens), like the lovely trees and flowers that cover the garden’s fifty-two lush acres. No mere spectacle, the piece invites the viewer to become part of a magical experience, a fitting tribute to the beauty of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the endless imagination of Castro and her company.

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