A Good Idea That Still Needs Work
The new year in San Francisco started with a new company though not new dancers. …And Still Dancing, the brain child of actor/dancer/writer Martin A. David, is an ensemble of dancers over forty, many of whose members are respected Bay Area teachers, but few of whom are still actively involved on the stage. At this point the concept for the group is better than the product they offer. The company debut, a decidedly mixed bag, amply illustrated that good dancers alone don’t make for a good program. And having a good time doing what you do—as these artists clearly did—is not enough of a reason for us to watch them.
Still there were things to be encouraged by. The dancers were professionals. Well trained, in good shape, they had presence, individuality and a disciplined approach to their craft. The weakest point was the repertoire, some of it reprised by Mr. David from his own works from the early 70’s.
Pieces of that time relished a pedestrian, extravagantly casual approach to choreography. ”Anyone is a dancer” was the tenor of the times. They may have had a purpose. But “Arrival Time” and “Drink Milk, It’s Good for You” from 1971 looked more than a little dated and really quite silly on these performers. What do middle aged dancers romping around like kids released from the classroom have to tell us in 2005?
As a choreographer, Mr. Davis still does not seem to be much interested in movement except in the sense that it opens a door to his dancers’ individuality. Both “Blue,” set to the infectious “Startin’ for Chicago” by R&B singer Tracy Nelson, and “Why”, in which the dancers introduced themselves with texts and little solos, probably, of their own making, were super simple but bearable because the performers (Anna Dal Pino, Sarah Shoshana David, Kristie Fellows, Connie Nelson, Irene Gondai Pedigo, Diane Russell) did a creditable job approaching and realizing this minimalistic choreography. Something as simple as a walk forward, a port de bras that blossoms into an embracing gesture, a take on slinkiness were keenly differentiated. The dancers had nicely processed the material through their own bodies and yet they also cohered as an ensemble. Here they showed how much older performers still have to contribute.
Better choreography was offered by guest artists. Joan Lazarus’ “Allemande for Anna,” to a movement from J.S. Bach’s “Suite for Solo Violincello in G Majo,” delicately intersected with the music without being either completely committed nor independent of it. Performed by Ms. Dal Pino, partnered by what could be described as a triangular blond coffee table/sculpture, the “Allemande” moved along a fairly good clip, spinning out motives and returning to them as anchoring points. A beautifully proportioned ballet trained dancer, the lyrical Ms. Dal Pino proudly manipulated her “partner” and or cuddled up to it for momentary rests. This was an open faced lovely piece of work by both choreographer and dancer.
Ruth Botchan reprised the second part of her meditative 1999 “Consulting Summer’s Clock.” Based on Emily Dickinson’s eponymous poem, the piece was co-choreographed with Susan Cherniak. Botchan, who quite a few years ago studied and taught for Erik Hawkins, carefully restricted thes vocabulary to mainly walking patterns and rich work for the arms. Slight shift of weight or direction altered implications. Again and again, she raised an arm in front of her eyes so that it became a blind fold, a mirror, a mask or a marker of uncertainty. Well focused, using space like a page to be written on again and again, Ms. Botchan moved with calm certainty inside an uncertain world. Cheryl Koehler’s costume, full of diagonal lines, on top of a skirt, excellently underlined the choreography’s sense of ambivalence of being pulled who knows where.
“Some Kind of Kin”, a somewhat wandering trio for choreographer Sharon Took-Zozaya, Lisa Christensen and Donna Von Joo-Tornell, looked at commonalities and differences among a hollow-eyed hippie, a bathrobe clad depressive and an exuberant school girl. The piece’s trajectory—ending with the three of them in a questioning mode—could have been more clearly realized but individual sections looked promising.
Also needing more work was Karen Goodman’s “Ruach” (Breath) which, additionally,was hampered by a poor lighting design (rather amateurish all evening). Dressed in a flowing white gown, Ms. Goodman passed through a variety of semi-hallucinatory states. Performed mainly in place, its impetus arose out of breathing patterns which ranged from barely perceptible to stochastic. A good editing job probably could cut through the surfeit of material and enhance the solo’s hypnotic potential.
While it was splendid to see John LeFan and Theresa Dickinson—still a stunningly incisive dancer—again, their contact improv session with Macia Folch was only intermittently worthwhile watching. Serendipity is inherent in this genre of performance, so maybe this was simply an off-nigh. Still the moments of magic were so few that one couldn’t help but wonder how much practice these dancers actually have had with each other.
Mr. LeFan also signed for the finale, ”Autumn”, an amateurishly pedestrian celebration for the ensemble. While poor, it was nowhere near as truly awful as the solo, “Origins” which Ms. David designed for Mr. David, a work that was embarrassing to watch. Mirrors in studio may lead dancers to become overly concerned with their own image. Here a mirror was badly needed. A big one.
The evening’s one unmitigated delight was vocalist Julia Norton who could trill, hum, scat, throat-sing and do multi-phonics with the best of them. Her jazz improvisation on Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” was simply superb.
3, No. 3