Related Features


Your support helps us cover dance in New York City and beyond! Donate now.

IMPRESSIONS: Sarah Panayiotou Leñador's "am I real?" at Abron's Arts Center

IMPRESSIONS: Sarah Panayiotou Leñador's "am I real?" at Abron's Arts Center
Veronica Jiao

By Veronica Jiao
View Profile | More From This Author

Published on May 20, 2024
Sarah Panayioutou Leñador. Photo by Josh Pacheco

Choreographer & Performer: Sarah Panayiotou Leñador

Movers: Josh Pacheco & Kar’mel Antonyo Wade Small

Dramatruge: Sharone Halevy

Costume Design: Anna Alisa Belous

Lighting Designer: Joe Scardino

Movement Direction: Thomas A. Leñador

Set Design: Luke Polihrom

Sound Editing: Richard Tyler Osborne

“Am I real?” Sarah Panayioutou Leñador asks us, and herself, through detailed dramaturgy, set design, acting, music, and movement. In her show, Leñador weaves vignettes of sanity, insanity, apathy, and ascension.

We enter Abrons Arts Center's Underground Theater looking down on a color-blocked stage: a royal green velour couch,stage right; a long pink dresser with a pink lamp and pink trinkets upstage, behind the couch; a blue bookshelf stacked with books and blue accents, upstage right; and a beige light hanging over a sink, mid-stage left. Partitions stand on either side of the stage, with clothes and accessories casually draped over them. On the upstage wall, a large black and white tapestry depicting angels and vaguely religious iconography gives a focal point to the sectioned stage.

a young woman with a concerned look on her face approaches a red door to open it
Sarah Panayioutou Leñador in her solo show "am I real?" Photo: Paolo Verzani

Having worked with Leñador as a collaborator in the past, I was able to sit in on a rehearsal of this work last summer. Between that rehearsal and this performance, I was floored by Leñador’s success at layering production elements and acting choices around, rather than atop, movement.

In a majority of the piece, with the exception of a thrash-dancing break and oh yes, a misfit campy, musical-theater-dance curtain call, Leñador’s vocabulary is straightforward.  A tendu is a tendu, and a balance on the coccyx bone is just that. She builds her world outwardly from the dancing and its repetition in order to make way for the abstract.

Starting the performance with the song “Mama Said” by the Shirelles, “Mama said there’d be days like this”… and “Monday, Monday” by The Mamas & The Papas, Leñador  anchors us in time. Then she takes us through her daily “getting-ready" routine which involves moving in a diagonal line across the stage with some standard ballet vocabulary that morphs into flowing, non-codified contemporary lines.

sitting on her tailbone in a living room a young woman reaches her arms and legs out creating a v shape
Sarah Panayioutou Leñador in her solo show "am I real?" Photo:Paolo Verzani

She goes into floor work and a tailbone balance that will be repeated and become infamously acknowledged later in the piece, then shakes it all off (“it”being something slightly more ominous than just the Monday blues) to repeat the routine for each day of the week. Each repeat contains differences, both subtle and blatant, and every time Leñador goes through her ritual she becomes more weary. Even with the well-curated selection of songs highlighting each day of the week in their lyrics, the days blur together into weeks, maybe even months.

On Thursday, danced to “Jueves” by El Trío de Omar Rodríguez-López, Leñador puts on a red blazer adorned with a sequin design on its back; on another day, (I forget which one) she ends up standing on her green couch, repeating a familiar movement sequence. We notice that the couch has not only changed places several times through all this, but it has also duplicated itself across the stage. (Two mysterious beings with covered faces, simultaneously unnoticeable and noticeable characters, Josh Pacheco & Kar’mel Antonyo Wade Small, are responsible for these antics.)

two faceless figures totally covered in all encompassing full body unitards pose in a disheveled space...
Josh Pacheco & Kar’mel Antonyo Wade Small or vice-versa, the faceless ones in Sarah Panayioutou Leñador's "am I real?"

One day, as usual, Leñador approaches the sink to wash her face, this time her coffee mug has been placed upside down by one of the faceless figures. Who these figures are and why they’re messing with the locations of clothes, furniture, and other belongings of Leñador’s is a mystery. Are they her subconscious demons? Are we watching events happening in her mind, or do these beings exist here and now?

.After walking to the sink yet another time to wash her face — at a spigot that water has not flowed from for the past five times she’s returned to it — water suddenly showers downwards from an overhead lamp drenching Leñador completely.

a woman with loosely curled hair that is wet is  in a black dress leaning back somewhat as if in anguish
Sarah Panayioutou Leñador in her solo show "am I real?" Photo: Josh Pacheco

We’ve watched throughout the night as Leñador calmly collected herself despite each odd discrepancy in her environment. Finally, she gives in to the emotional tension that has been building. Shedding her soggy clothes and  changing into a tattered, black dress representative of her current disheveled psyche, she moves to the intensity of guttural throat-singing ("Wolf Totem” by The HU). Throwing her body around the stage, she punches the air with rage. The watermarks from her hair and body leave their own story across the stage floor. No longer are the masked figures shifting things around. Leñador is moving furniture, slamming her bookcase, destroying a pillow she clung to earlier in the show. Feathers fly all over the stage.

the woman in black is surrounded by a cloud of feathers
Sarah Panayioutou Leñador in her solo show "am I real?" Photo: Josh Pacheco

After a blackout, the tone changes dramatically. With the lights fading up, and ’70’s music blaring, Leñador, in a gold-sequined dress, is lifted heavenward by one of the faceless entities. As she ascends she has become the embodiment of an icon from the tapestry at the center of the stage. Her expression is lifted and peaceful, a stark contrast from the painful countenance that grew throughout this work. Dancing through the mess she created– feathers, water, broken trinkets across the stage — there’s a lightness to her movement best described as emergence. She and the audience are relieved.

the woman with wet loose hair stands on a couch wearing a glitterin gold outfit with wing extensions that she holds spread out as if an angel.
Sarah Panayioutou Leñador in her solo show "am I real?" Photo: Paolo Verzani

Leñador and her collaborators have created an evening that takes us through the highs and lows of being. Whether or note  we’ve witnessed her mental breakdown or the world breaking her down in “am I real?,” Leñador’s flawless timing and story-telling strike a chord. The idea of “going through the motions”, wondering if the daily grind is what existence is, feels all too relatable. I was particularly impressed by the innovation of Leñador and her set designer, Luke Polihrom, who brought surreality exquisitely to the stage, and — worth noting — on a budget.

The Dance Enthusiast Shares IMPRESSIONS/our brand of review, and creates conversation.
For more IMPRESSIONS, click here.
Share your #AudienceReview of performances. Write one today!

The Dance Enthusiast - News, Reviews, Interviews and an Open Invitation for YOU to join the Dance Conversation.

Related Features

More from this Author