writers on dancing


An Informal, Exciting Mix

Jon Sims Center for the Arts
San Francisco, California
September 30, 2004

By Rita Felciano
copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano
published October 4, 2004

As of late I find myself going more and more to the Jon Sims Center for the Arts in the South of Market (SOMA) district of San Francisco. Named after the founder of the Gay and Lesbian Freedom Band, the Center for several years has fulfilled an important support function by providing gay artists three months residencies with concomitant showcases of works in progress. The place, which is still run on a shoe string—they may not even have their own stationery yet—is becoming a venue for group performances for a number of dancers for whom Jon Sims seems to be as close to a home as artists these days can have.

Now it looks like Jon Sims might have been the harbinger of new dance neighborhood, expanding the traditional one from the Mission into Northern SOMA, an area of office and small industrial spaces which are closed at night and make parking at least feasible. Alonzo King’s Dance Center complex moved into the vicinity a couple of years ago. Last spring, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company opened her new studio some blocks away; early next year, 848 Divisadero, an experimental space that has been in the Western Addition for 13 years, will take over a new space down the street. Venue 9, which closed last May a few blocks away, reportedly long and hard to stay in this neighborhood. They were not successful but are still looking.

Programs at Jon Sims usually are a mix of finished and in progress works in the time honored tradition of choreographer/dancers performing in each others pieces. The latest of these was Fling, curated by Sue Roginsky and Christy Funsch. An informal evening--dancers mixed with the audience, watched each other perform, helped with the set up--this was a congenial relaxed atmosphere in which to present work which ranged from the polished to the naïve. It even included an impromptu performance by violinist David Rider of Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Three Caprices” for unaccompanied violin. At first greeted with skepticism, the piece’s haunting harmonics and microtonal specks of color, however, quickly drew in the audience if for no other reason than the impressive way with which Rider coped the work’s fiendishly difficult demands.

Kara Davis, an exquisite dancer performing with many local ensembles, the Jenkins company among them, has begun to choreograph seriously. The lovely “Margins of Error”, a trio for herself, Juliann Rhodes and Nol Simonse, is a beautifully structured work in which solos, duets and trios flowed out of each other with the inevitability of water being channeled but shimmering with unforced ripples and wavelets. Much of the vocabulary is release-influenced but Ms. Davis also embraces her ballet background’s formal values, most evident in her nuanced use of space. It’s not a bad parentage to have.

“Margins” moved through its recurring themes and variations with assuredness. The dancers flourished in the extensions and being airborne as much as in the choreography’s sensuous curls and foldings. Gestures, primarily of touching, momentarily arrested the flow. Mr. Simonse put a finger to his lips or delicatedly poked a partner’s breast bone, Ms. Rhodes cupped her face, and Ms. Davis’s hands walked down her own back or a partner’s limbs. In a duet Ms. Rhodes and Ms. Davis shadowed each other like birds in formation, swooping into individual trajectories only to return to the common path. A unison trio opened up like a sun burst shooting individualized energy into the space. Leading up to the finale was a surging, torquing solo for Ms. Davis, framed by her partners who in crossing passed each other a lantern to illuminate the falling darkness.

Sean Dorsey’s “Second Kiss”, danced by the choreographer with Mair Culbreth, wistfully recalled a first kiss. The simplicity and naivete of its vocabulary—both verbal and kinetic—stood in stark contrast with a painful identity issue that is almost never explored even at a time when work about gender abounds. What does it mean for a child—or an adult—to be born into what feels like the wrong body, one in which gender and sex are fundamentally different? “Kiss’s” fumbling, tumbling and recoiling movements were blissfully childlike but redolent in sadness and pain for one of the two dancers. Lovely in the way it captured the awkwardness of puppy love, the work ended on an ambiguous note, already suggested by its title. Maybe there was going to be a second kiss after all.

“Solos Duet”, choreographed by Ms Funsch and Ms Roginski, seemed to ask some fundamental questions about choreography. What happens to a movement as it transfers from one dancer to another? And how does a dancer pick up and modify the information? And what does he or she do with it?

The choreographers, who give themselves credit as directors, quite likely never intended to provide clear-cut answers but, as in some many other aspects of thinking about dance, raising the question is often more interesting than the possible answer.

The work opened with two movement phrases. Ms. Roginsky’s included a precariously balanced arabesque which melted and flowed into the ground. Ms. Funsch’s in contrast were tightly minced and upright with a folded hands-to-cheek pose. This beginning then became something like a kinetic game of Simon-Says in which you could still recognize the initial phrases but in which the transformations and additions by Manfred Schaechtle, Nol Simonse and Oscar Manuel Trujillo acquired their own interest. A knotted duet for Messrs. Schaechtle and Trujillo, for instance, seemed to come out of nowhere in this lucidly conceived and playful piece of choreography. This was thoughtful, intriguingly structured choreography, beautifully realized by an excellent quintet of lush performers.

Messrs. Simonse and Trujillo also signed on for solos. Both them made but a modest impression. Mr. Simonse’s “Short Story” consisted of kinetic responses to a macabre little story, “A Girl”, whose hands grow cookies, read by its author Andrew Ramer. The choreography felt tentative and unsure even though performed by Mr. Simonse whose strong and lyrical dancing has ennobled much local choreography. Mr. Trujillo’s “Done” looked like a studio improvisation.

Concluding the program was a two part video “Frozen Whisk Collecting Sunlight” and “The Essential State of Night Life” by Elaine Buckholtz to music by Zora Leander and Closer to Carbon. Both of them showed carefully layered abstracted images, some of them severely tied to the music. Neither of the two developed much of a dynamic range.

An untitled work in progress, by Kimiko Guthrie and Eric Kupers, seemed to explore the power implications of a handshake. One has to wait and see how this uneasy relationship develops.
Volume 2, No. 37
October 4, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano


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last updated on September 20, 2004