writers on dancing


Visual Flair

The Chocolate Box
Kate Mitchell and Dancers
ODC Theater
San Francisco, California
October 30, 2005

By Rita Felciano
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

Maybe it’s appropriate, for a Halloween weekend program, to have the costumes steal the show. While Kate Mitchell’s choreography for her four-part The Chocolate Box was adequate and competently danced by her six women and two men ensemble, it’s what’s often dismissively called the trappings that drew the attention. Yet there is nothing wrong in having simple ingredients dressed up and beautifully presented. This was an honest show by an artist whose talents veer more towards the visual than the kinetic.

Mitchell is an excellent designer who textures space harmoniously and with a flair for the dramatic. She replaced ODC’s workaday black wing panels with velvety brown ones that echoed the wooden beams, floor and brick back wall. Golden olmec-style symbols stenciled onto the curtains added the touch of luxury to complete the theater’s transformation into a place of sumptuous consumption. The print patterns returned in the final image blown up against the back wall and as discrete touches in the costumes, may up a pant leg or on a simple T-shirt. A set of modular steps that could be used individually or as  horizontal or lateral dividers created spatial diversity. In terms of the stage picture Mitchell had worked out every lush detail.

Lengthy program notes explained the ambivalent role story in civilizations from Mesoamerica and Europe to the African and Asian continents. Without these verbal cues, it might have been difficult to see a relationship between the four discrete pieces of choreography which this history had inspired.        

“Un Encuentro Explosivo”—renamed from “Revienta” and, I believe, somewhat reworked from its first showing at last summer’s West Wave Festival—had the ensemble of six in identical floor level military style over coats. With a flick of a leg hip length slits opened up to reveal gorgeous colors underneath. The choreography, inspired by the lively rhythms of 16th Spanish dance music, also took its cue from sprightly period dances. Vertical postures and fleet foot work combined, however, with large arm gestures. Egging each other on with hand claps or imaginary coin tosses, the dancers displayed an easy camaraderie that sent them racing up and down the stairs. They ended up prostrate, head first, down the steps.

This image of bodies collapsed, maybe asleep, maybe dead was to return several time. If the idea was to suggest chocolate’s connection to violence, demi urges, even  sacrificial offerings—as the program notes implied—it needed to be much more integrate to the choreography.

“Entrega’s” slower paced, ceremonial quality featured Ann Berman, a lithe and tall dancer, in a hoop skirt. She had lassitude written all over her languidly scooping arms, corkscrewing turns and slightly averted face. She didn’t just tower over her retinue—two males in pantaloon type pants and the women in painted dresses with uneven hems—but she seemed spiritually removed from them. She looked like a statue that for a time had come alive. The choreography had a shadowy quality to it with people entering and disappearing apparently at random. Not even the men’s vigorous duet could countermand that dreamy quality. At one point Mitchell had two different solos and three separate duets simultaneously on stage; it showed that she cannot yet structure compositional complexity.

For  “Resistencia’s” precision dancing, Richard Friedman—responsible for the music throughout—created a spritely, tabla-infused percussion score with bells and gongs. The dancers, who showed up in patterned majorette skirts and voluptuously layered leggings, kicked their hearts out in choreography much of which accented unisons that took their cues from aerobic dancing, athletics and a hip hop move or two. Two women hopped like the Bobbsey Twins on pogo sticks, and a trio for Berman and the men, Kai Medeiros and Matthew Holland, mainly highlighted Berman’s superiority as a dancer.

Chocolate’s least interesting concoction was “Una Mezcla Armoniosa” to music by Buena Vista Social Club’ Ibrahim Ferrer’s. At first the men lay stretched out on “benches” until the women—in beautiful halter-top outfits--poured in from the sides to pull them into the action. While the jazz-inflected moves were lively enough and allowed for some solos which showcased individual dancers—diversely but for the most part well trained—the choreography was just too generic.

Mitchell understands that for harmoniously mixed choreography you need to balance solos with groups, unisons with counterpoint but she has not yet learned to realize in dance what she has so well in her designs.

Volume 3, No. 40
October 31, 2005

copyright ©2005 Rita Felciano



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last updated on October 31, 2005