Letter from San Francisco No. 11

Liss Fain Dance
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
June 16, 2006

Fresh Meat 2006
ODC Theater
June 15, 2006

Every Little Movement
Project Artaud Theatre
June 17, 2006

by Rita Felciano
copyright ©2006, Rita Felciano

For this year’s home season, Liss Fain took a big step away from the small stages where she has shown her work for the last fifteen years or so. Fain designs her choreography with space in mind. Her nine dancers flow in and out of the wings with an ease that suggests that a dance is much larger than what we actually see in front of us. Once on stage, they fill it with long extensions and voluptuous lunges that thrust the energy beyond the body’s physical confines.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, maybe the best local venue for mid-sized dance companies, accommodated her ballet-based, modern dance-spiced choreography with a welcoming embrace. Now that Fain has a good stage, one can only hope that she can build enough of an audience to warrant showing at this venue in the future.

Fain’s dances are not that emotionally involving because their structure is so transparent. You can you can always see the choreographer’s shaping mind at work. But they are eloquent, glistening with a cool and intelligent appeal to them.  Additionally, Fain works with very strong music not, as a friend correctly pointed out, setting her dance to it but having the score suggest an environment into which she places the choreography. Sometime there are direct connections but more often the music sets the atmosphere in which the choreography becomes alive.

For her latest world premiere, “When Still,” Fain chose selections from Monteverdi madrigals and Gregorian chant. Though without a narrative, the first trio for Jose Campos, Jamielyn Duggan and Bryan Ketron picks up on Monteverdi’s dancey rhythms and evokes young people’s bantering. At one point Duggan turns her head to the audience with a questioning glance, but she immediately returns to serenely twirling circles, passing lifts and sunny partnering. The second trio, for Marlowe Bassett, Jennifer Beamer Fernandez and Shaunna Vella, glows with burnished intensity. The hops are soft, the backbends languid and the floor work weighted. Though individualized and spread out, these women move from a deeply felt common impulse, maybe a darkly held secret. For the finale, “Still’s” most balletic section, Beamer Fernandez becomes a kind of leader, streaking through space with the other dancers trailing behind her like the tail on a comet.  But the linear trajectory breaks up and the leader becomes the outsider. The choreography here is airy, with wonderful upward thrusts, and sculptural impulses, A duet for Ketron and Campos is particularly lovely.

The program opened with the stark “The Line Between Night and Day (2006)” set to excerpts of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The work, with its deep plies and stiffly held arms, felt ritual inspired in an almost Grahamesque way. At times the dancers also had something of the two-dimensional quality of Egyptian paintings about them even though they moved with great urgency through big pushes and stretches, interspersed with moments of intense stillness. The program notes refer to a paradise lost—the piece starts with Campos following Randall, maybe Adam and Eve figures—but I did not see the connection. The Messiaen is such a powerful score that it almost unfairly competed with the choreography.

Two earlier pieces completed this cool but rewarding program. “River at the End of the Land”, to music by the late Nubian composer Hamz El Din and the dancers in James Meyer’s golden costumes, is a beautifully flowing work full of eloquent arms and billowing encounters that suggest both permanence and changeability

For “The Unknown Land” Fain had chosen another demanding score, Gyorgy Ligeti’s fascinatingly complex Piano Concerto. This piece looked particularly good on the Yerba Buena stage because its spatial design could be so fully realized. At a moment of great intensity, for instance, a few dancers enter upstage left, ceremoniously skirt the curtains and step back into the wings. Visually, this simple, movement design put a sturdy backbone into the center’s more convoluted actions. Shadowy dancing behind semi-transparent panels create a sense of distant echoing of the foregrounded material. A square outlined on the floor sets up expectations of confinement but also of order. “Unknown” juxtaposes individual walking patterns that coalesce into unisons with quasi atomistic leaps and jetes. People connect across distance, their limbs reaching out like tentacles. The flow is constant, as are the surprises. The work was welled danced by the full company of nine.

Reading autobiographies of American dance pioneers—Bonnie Bird and Barton Mumaw come to mind—show how performing for little or no money has been imbedded in dancers’ psyche from the very beginning of modern American dance. Two packed concerts ten days ago showed how that tradition continues in the Bay Area. One of them honored an individual—dancer/poet/painter Remy Charlip—the other a group of people—the “transgender and queer” community. The first one’s professionalism would have been enjoyed by anybody sensitive and interested in dance. For the latter, the organizers need to rethink the curating process if they ever hope to attract more than insider audiences.

“Every Little Movement”, an all volunteer-run benefit to help defray Charlip’s medical costs—he had a stroke last fall—was a festive, well run evening of quality dance. The evening opened with a taiko “prayer” by the Dance Brigade; it closed with a video of Charlip’s “Moveable Feast,” his lovingly envisioned entering into paradise--carried by a bevy of stark-naked young men. Joanna Haigood and June Watanabe beautifully performed two different Air Mail dances, “Dance in a Doorway” and “The Red Towel Dance”, the latter accompanied by a great cello improvisation by Theresa Wong. Inspired by Charlip’s book “I Love You”, Julia Adams brought SFB’s handsome Rory Hohenstein and a quartet of young dancers for the whimsical “You Feel So Nice” to Mozart. Charlip himself choreographed the simple “Home Again” for Bharata Natyam dancer Eva Soltes, and he even took to the stage with Anne Bluethenthal in another premiere “The World Goes By.” Additional performances in this loving tribute and professionally run evening came from an excellent children’s group, the SF Arts Ed Players; Keith Hennessy, Kathleen Hermesdorf/Albert Mathias and the choral ensemble The Conspiracy of Beards.

It would be unreasonable to expect the same high standards from Fresh Meat Productions, the force behind  the Transgender and Queer Performance Festival, This annual event, in its fifth incarnation, apparently, is the only one in the country. Being an openly transgendered artist, puts you automatically into you into a minority. So this is a community that is still discovering its own voices. There may not yet be all that many first rate artists working from this particular perspective. In that case, smaller would be better.

The packed house—primarily born female—hooted and hollered lustily all three and a half hours. Most appalling were the two MC’s who couldn’t read the copy in their hands, babbled on endlessly and repeated themselves over and over and over. A hook was needed to pull them off stage.

Sean Dorsey, the hardworking power house behind Fresh Meat, presented a new, gently humorous solo. “Creative” dug out memories of an ill fated attempt by a school counselor to “cure” him. Smartly chosen music, lanky dancing and well written text, mellifluously delivered  live and on tape, recalled the young Joe Goode. Imany Henry’s excerpt from  “B4T (Before Testosterone),” struck a note of painful truth about what it means to have to lie and still be an outcast in your own family. On trapeze, Miguel Chernus-Goldstein’s “Cherry Blossoms”, perfumed with just a touch of sentimentality, suggested a lovely moon goddess. Kate Bornstein’s monologue, celebrating her 20th birthday as a woman, wittily and poignantly recalled the early not so good old days. Slithering in and out of performance genres, Shawn Virago’s act had a great sense of camp about it. But too many of the other presentations badly needed shaping. Just because you think you have something to say doesn’t mean that you know how to deliver it on stage.

Volume 4, No. 25
June 26, 2006

copyright ©2006 Rita Felciano



©2006 DanceView