writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Mixed Bag

Pilot 42
ODC Theater
December 18, 2003

by Rita Felciano
Copyright ©2003 by Rita Felciano

The Pilot series at ODC Theater is one of ongoing initiatives which attempt to provide solutions to the eternal question of affordable rehearsal space. By now ODC has developed a hierarchy of these programs designed to meet needs of choreographers at various stages in their development. Pilot is for those just learning how to structure a public presentation, Migrations features choreographers who have some experience and finally there is the House Special for fully professional dance makers with a specific project in mind.

Pilot has been going on for fifteen years and, not surprisingly, the quality has been a real toss up. Some programs have let you see a whole evening of budding talents that just needed time to develop, others have made you wonder why these people were invited to join the first place. Usually, these evenings are mix of self-conscious trying-to-be different at all costs, sparks of imagination and a fair amount of pedestrian plodding along.

In the most recent one—the first one to run for two nights because friends, fellow dancers and the plain curious inevitably pack the theater—the pickings were rather slim. Still, you can’t help admire the commitment and enthusiasm the dancers bring to a colleague’s work.

Actually, among the freshest impression was the one made by Paul Laurey, a neuroscientist who, according to the program, just recently discovered improvisational dance. His Two Versions of what he called “thematically oriented extemporaneous dancing” was absolutely shapeless. He started out in a business suit and began to take off various layers of clothing to liberate himself from external constraints. Laurey probably doesn’t even know that this is one of the oldest cliches in the theater. By examining his bare feet, he probably also thought he was turning himself into a dancer.

Yet you couldn’t help being drawn into the passion with which this athlete performer threw himself into his dancing. In the first improvisation he tore across the stage like a force of nature, releasing pent up energy into runs and somersaults and twist and rolls that constantly raised the ante. The second was slower more grounded, with curls and shifts of weight and exploration of balances and a lurching sense of bodily identity.

Kara Davis, a compact, highly expressive dancer who these days seems of perform with just about everybody in town, opened the program with the evening’s best work. Margins of Error, was an intriguingly structured, quite airy trio for Davis and two also very good dancers, Nol Simonse and Juliann Rhodes. It was a piece in which small incidents and accidental encounters gathered into something like a dustball only to be blown apart again. The sense was one of control and fraility combined.

The work started with movement fragments and gestures thrown out by the dancers as the audience filed in. These snippets seemed to suggest obstacles: an invisible door, finger on the lips, a wall-like hand on a forehead, an obstruction to wiggle across. They were performed to a good sound collage (Jefre Cantu and Danny Grody) in which pre-performance chatter metamorphosed into something akin to rolling thunder.

Among Margins' most intriguing aspects was Davis’ use of gestures. They seemed a means to work through the piece’s sense of hesitation and discovery. Simonse’s index finger touching Davis collar bone sent her roiling across the stage; a bent over Rhodes’s ran her hand down her body as if she had never noticed it before. When Simonse released Davis from a duet, she hugged herself as if in a straight jacket as she slowly released into a crouch.

Gestural elements flowed into liquid phrases and episodes which themselves coalesced into a central squashed together trio—to music by Arvo Part—in which the dancers stood together as if stuck in a box. Like steel bands Davis’ arms reached around them and her fingers slowly walked their way down their bodies. It was an eerie image of confinement and exploration. After opening up again into space, the piece ended with Davis swimming in growing darkness as Simonse and Rhodes circled around her passing a lantern back and forth.

In contrast to Margin’s fragmentary encounters, Todd Eckert’s Tread had one long seemingly unstoppable trajectory whose trio of dancers, Zenobia Moore, Laura Sharp and Shaunna Vella, chugged along on steady legs and flighty arms. Dressed in short brown tunics with various ribbons around legs, necks and arms, the dancers had something vaguely Amazonian about them as they marched in unison their arms flying around them like so many streamers.

Eckert too used something along a gestural, though more abstracted vocabulary. These flailing, reaching, spreading, swinging arms seemed to be contradicting the piece’s steady impetus. They set up constant tension within these dancers steady progression across space. Even as the group broke up into individual dives and lifts, the dancers were always drawn back to each other as if by kinship. At the end, they sat down, properly lined up again, their knees drawn up. But their arms still wafted, however feebly, above their heads.

Of the three dancers Moore was the most enjoyable to watch, steely with determination even in her most flighty moments.

Tread had an oddly mesmerizing but also slightly disturbing tone to it, in part to Eckert’s rather skillful building of a piece with a single trajectory. The sound track, from a live concert by Latin American musicians, however, seemed only tangentially related to the choreography.

The other three works, Swallow by Kiesha Minyard, which tried out ideas about breathing and holding your breath; Samantha Giron’s gentle fledgling duet Yu-niwa and Short on Words by Kelly Kemp, which built its energetic humor around scurrilous language, need more development.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 13
December 15, 2003
Copyright ©2003 by Rita Felciano




Back Issues

Index of Reviews
Back Issues
About Us
Contact Us

Sister Sites:
Ballet Alert! Online
Ballet Talk
Ballet Blogs



Rita Felciano
Alison Garcia
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish


The next issue of DanceView, a quarterly review of dance published since 1979, will be mailed out in mid-October.

DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043


Copyright ©2003 by by DanceView
last updated on October 19, 2003 -->