writers on dancing


Daring Dancing from San Francisco

ODC/San Francisco
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
October 13, 2005

By Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter  

Terror and beauty are hauntingly blended in KT Nelson's "RingRoundRozi," the opening work on the impressive program the 35-year-old company offered at the Joyce last week. Nelson weaves her nine dancers in and out of riveting encounters that seem to flow spontaneously from the exchange of energy between the dancers' bodies. Wearing soft, simple pants, shorts and tops (most of the men wear no shirts) and inhabiting a gloomily lit stage that hints at secrets and deception, they tumble and grapple within the fluid continuum created by Linda Bouchard's intriguing score.

I was gripped by, and drawn into, this dance's palpable tension and ability to surprise. The sense of unease and unpredictability of the alliances let you take nothing for granted. A series of duets develops once the piece is underway, but even as they are taking place, bursts of sharp, swift activity sometimes appear elsewhere, and these partnerships do not guarantee permanent alliances. Bouchard's score, with its discordant strings and electronic unease, keeps you guessing as it finds its own way, eventually arriving at an eerie section incorporating children's voices singing portions of "Frère Jacques."

The duets were spellbinding because of the way Nelson incorporates daring, upended moves without calling attention to the danger. I recall her as a notably plush, fluid dancer, and the nine performers here share a similar ability to let even the most difficult phrases flow into one another. When Yayoi Kambara and Corey Brady link up, they explore each other's bodies with edgy wariness. The juiciest duet is danced by Anne Zivolich and Justin Flores, and they manage to suggest unimaginable terrors through daring lifts and entanglements that they glide through imperturbably. A brief duet that follows is a marvel of suspension, and near the end of the dance, Private Freeman and Daniel, after linking up by lying one atop the other in a fetal position, find new ways to surprise us with their vigorous, seemingly inevitable complementary involvement.

Bright colors and brighter lighting marked Brenda Way's "24 Exposures," which had all the markings of a lightweight frolic but had enough quirks and robust surprises to invite more than just surface pleasure. The wonderful dancers (returning after only a brief pause) attacked Way's springy, playful movement with fantastic verve. This was the best kind of ensemble work, simultaneously celebrating a company's spirit and also allowing you to appreciate each dancer as an individual.

The sprightly tone was set by both the music—Edgar Meyer's folksy score for cello, violin and piano, which bounces jauntily from one section to the next, sometimes sounding Celtic, at other times jazzy, and passing through a few brief reflective moments. The women wore floral-patterned sundresses, while the men wore khakis and solid-colored tank tops. When the curtain rises, Zivolich is standing poised on Brian Fisher's back, and she remains there quite a while—one leg on his waist and the other on his shoulder so that she looks like she's about to start running—while others begin to dart and scoop around the stage. After what seems like an impossibly long time, she casually lies back into space and is, of course, adeptly caught by a ready nearby dancer.

The music is unfailingly rhythmic, and Way seems to have been captivated by its easygoing ebbs and flows. Her choreography unspools felicitously, sometimes presenting the dancers as a set of couples, sometimes offering good-natured counterpoint, at other times letting them shoot onto the stage for sunny bursts of solo dancing, as when Quilet Rarang makes her body squiggle and snap as though playing a game of tag with the perky music. Much of the time, "24 Exposures" evoked associations with one of Paul Taylor's sunlit dances in which the men and women are more companionable than deeply romantic. Way kept the action varied—a nod to Irish step-dancing one moment; a slow-motions taffy-like sequence another—and offered a rich variety of challenges, which the 11 dancers met with brio and flair.

"24 Exposures" might normally be expected to open or close a program, but here it provided a sprightly interlude between two dances that were more pensive in tone. Way's recent "On a Train Heading South" was the ambitious closing work— ambitious because it attempts to incorporate a concern for global warming within a dance, and because it features a striking set by Alexander V. Nichols. Twelve blocks of ice, which resembled gigantic diamonds as the glowed in Nichols' lighting design, were suspended in an arc above the upstage area. Later in the piece, when they glowed luminously in shades of pale blue, green and lavender, they became like a super-sized version of the "Jewels" pendant.

Way provides a substantial program note, stating that the piece "springs from a deeply political concern" and that the movement aims to express "images of indolence, social distraction and narcissism." Dressed in pale grey and white, the dancers, a languid, self-satisfied cluster whom the electric, volatile Zivolich attempts to shock into awareness with her jagged bursts of movement. Way specifies that she is a Cassandra figure, blaring out truths that the others are too distracted or ignorant to recognize and heed. Jack Perla's commissioned score features nervous, wistful chamber music with sound bites of George W. Bush and other brief references to the news spliced in.

Way's choreography here comes across as more diffuse, and the work, while highlighted by interesting moments, does not cohere. One can often be mesmerized by the glowing blocks of ice, glistening as they start to melt, and by the steady sound of their dripping during lulls in the music. One can marvel at the astonishing, daring Zivolich, who dances right down to her nerve endings. But what does one make of tow men dashing by in bridal veils, or a wedge of women marching intently behind one who holds up a blue dress? Way seems to be referencing recent examples of media overkill, when the focus was one false or meaningless trivia while truly serious concerns remain complacently ignored. It's a worthy intention, but one not so readily communicable through dance. But with that ice melting, and the dancers eventually stepping and rolling obliviously through the wetness that creates, the sense of time running out and dangerous realities demanding to be faced did come through.

Volume 3, No. 38
October 17, 2005
copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on October 17, 2005