writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Faulty Magic

Motion Lab
October 17, 2003
ODC Theater, San Francisco

By Rachel Howard

Motion Lab's latest show billed itself as a night of "kinetic and sonic alchemy," the elements involved being Kathleen Hermesdorf's choreography and Albert Mathias' looping, club-like music. As a program note even explained, "Alchemy is an ancient system of natural magic that 'implants heavenly things in earthly objects by means of specific alluring charms used at the right moment'." Blame it on bad magic, then, or faulty timing, but Friday's show at ODC Theater, which continues next weekend, was sorely lacking in either transformation or transfixing moments.

It was all a mystifying disappointment. Hermesdorf and Mathias have worked as an artistic partnership since 1995, having met as members of Sara Shelton Mann's seminal performance co-op Contraband. My first brush with the pair was nearly two years ago, in a program of quirky and gutsy dances. The driving ideas behind those dances often faded into frustrating ambiguity, but the ideas were there, coupled with a raw and kicky movement style, a sure sense of stage space, and a flair for the unexpected. All that was needed, it seemed, was a firm feeling of trajectory.

But "As Above, So Below," as the evening was titled, never took off. In Solo for Supergirl, the opener, spiky-haired Hermesdorf flexed her biceps and skittered and flailed across the floor to Sheila Chandra's Speaking in Tongues, first facing the back wall and then, after several Latin-music interludes, facing the audience. Despite Hermesdorf's steely presence, her seemingly random steps couldn't match the momentum of Chandra's rhythmic clucks and syllables. And the muscle-girl poses, scattered haphazardly, came across as so much empty posturing.

Latin music dominated throughout, with Mathias laying down live drumming and warm synthesizer chords from his sound booth stage left. Tracks from the Buena Vista Social Club established the steamy atmosphere of Enchante, a recent commission for Company Mecanique. Three couples gave come-hither motions only to play tug-of-war with Contact Improvisation-style shoulder lifts and Capoeria-like kicks. The ensemble moments were pleasingly layered, but the musical episodes lacked distinction, and by the time the lights faded as the lovers slow-danced beneath an ominous disco ball, you felt you'd eavesdropped on a particularly petty and protracted lover's quarrel.

Songs by Tito Heredia and Dario Rosetti-Bonell also spiced up the solo Wanderlust, but not before Hermesdorf played air guitar with a stick to AC/DC's Back in Black. The stick turned out to be a telescoping pole, designed by Elaine Buckholtz, and at last Hermesdorf laid it on the diagonal, tip-toeing up and down it like a wire-walker and sticking out her thumb from an imagined roadside like a hitchhiker. But the images never congealed, and Wanderlust came off as an exercise in gimmickry.

The Swooning Room, another premiere, was better, thanks in large part to a razor-sharp performance by Monique Jenkinson among a sometimes sloppy ensemble. Seven women swayed and swung their way through a wash of electronic music, mostly by Mathias. Intriguing steps, like a sudden kick while hanging upside down in parallel, were discarded as soon as they appeared. Even some devilish floorwork, a roll across the stage rising in split-second to an extension on relevé, couldn't give this endless sound loop of a dance enough punch.

Photo: Kathleen Hermesdorf & Albert Mathias. Photo: Elizabeth Gorelik.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 4
October 20, 2003
Copyright ©2003 by Rachel Howard




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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on October 20, 2003