writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Bite-Sized Dance

Choreographers in Action
San Francisco, California
April 23, 2004

By Rita Felciano
Copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano
published 19 April 2004

The Bay Area Celebrates National Dance Week’s opening salvo started off on an exuberantly festive note that I almost missed. Choreographers in Action (CIA) a new dance advocacy coalition, with already a hundred artist members, had announced an evening of twenty-four two-minute excerpts by local choreographers. It looked like a terrible idea.

In fact “24 Views” was a smartly programmed and tightly scheduled hour and a half of dance tidbits that offered flash backs into existing work and glimpses at pieces yet to see the light of day. It also introduced new artists—some promising, a few not yet ready even for a showcase such as this.

No credit was given, but whoever chose and scheduled these acts knew what he or she was doing. (Whip in hand, Deborah Slater, in a plum-colored, flowing curls wig acted the MC/time-enforcing judge and executioner.)

Each of the bite-sized selections had its own color, its own rhythm; together they coalesced into a shimmer panoply of Bay Area dance. Even the weaker presentations, sandwiched as they were between better ones, added some luster.

Often pleasure derived from sensing the energy that dancers picked up from each other, or watching the commitment and infectious enthusiasm of performers such as the four children of the San Francisco Arts Education Project. They executed M. Koop TRANSIT company’s simple patterns with such focus and seriousness. It reminded one of why people take up dance.

Visual Rhythm Dance Company, a jazz company from the South Bay, did an excerpt of a Dracula piece. It really was rather dreadful. But these black-clad young women threw themselves into their crude high kicks and sultry poses around their Dracula figure with such passion that you couldn’t help but smile. Tango Con*Fusion was a quintet in red and black, trying to deal with all-female tango. They had neither the technique nor the imagination. But who knows what they’ll do in a few years. Wait and see also seems to be called for Shri Krupa Dance Company’s still rather modest effort, one of several Bay Area groups working on creating contemporary Bharata Natyam. They have to learn shaping of whatever material they want to use.

Sometimes the satisfaction came from seeing how performers mature. A couple of years ago, for instance, Carmen Carnes/VedaDance’s take on Indian-influenced choreography looked haphazard and was self-consciously performed. The choreography this excerpt from Sing me Home/Sick Blues is still thin but the performers were in control and projected through their simple movements and not through attitude.

Dandelion Dancetheater’s five nude dancers raised intriguing questions about body images and the role of clothes in shaping them. But choreographically they need to go beyond trying to shock—which I assume was the intent—by abusing their own breasts. Kate Mitchell & Dancers’ pale excerpt of a solo from dance/theater piece to premiere later this year floundered, it needs footing.

Other nicely placed and individualized solos came from Melanie Elms, in an excerpt of what looks like it may become a very dancy trio (Margaret Jenkins Dance Company). Deborah Miller partnered three silver chairs (Deborah Slater Dance Theater); long-limbed Alison Hurley just about flew through her airborn trajectories (Savage Jazz Dance), while a weighted down Anne-Lise Reusswig (Nancy Karp + Dancers) seemed to be pulled along a road to nowhere. These dancers all shed their own light on the beauty of the body in clearly designed motion, a concept which Motion Lab’s Kathleen Hermesdorf contradicted. A stunning performer, hers was as lyrically fierce as licking flames.

A thrown together duet by former New York City Ballet and Martha Graham dancer Alexandre Proia, who choreographed for the first Diamond Project, was an unpleasant surprise. What made him think he could get away with showing off a few sloppily executed turns and self-important partnering poses?

Some excerpts, Oakland Ballet’s Robert Garland duet from The Joplin Dances, and Liss Fain’s from her recent collaborative evening of work, suffered from being yanked out of their contexts. Dance Ceres with its belly-sliding dancers made you wonder what would happen after the dancers had slid into the wings. Huckabay McAllister decided on combining different fragments into a two-minute selection; it did them a disservice. On the other hand Scott Wells & Dancers’ adapted excerpt from @848 embodied all of the original piece’s wit and charm.

Maybe the most rewarding aspect of this enchanted evening was the way it created anticipation. Several of the more experienced choreographers, in addition to Jenkins, showed excerpts of works in the making.

One cannot help but look forward to Robert Moses’ Kin who seems to take his choreography in yet another direction, if the intricately carved multi-body entanglements are an indication of what will be premiered next weekend. With their inimitable sense of timing, Fellow Travelers Performance Group are working on a piece which involves the planting and gathering of plastic ducks. Rebecca Salzer Dance Theater is planning a piece (and a film) on selecting dancers and grocery. An oversize chair will have a prominent role in Zaccho Dance Theatre’s next site-specific exploration. In this excerpt Joanna Haigood worked an Alice In Wonderland magic on it, even suggesting a slide down the rabbit hole.

Unfortunately, I missed the post-intermission film by Capacitor, an ensemble which juxtaposes nature and technology with a kind ofvideo game aesthetics. Right before the end, ODC/SF pre-enacted their move into a new space (scheduled for 2005). Good sports that they are, some of the ODC dancers let themselves be wrapped up and hoisted out while others tore up the marley floor—creating a perfect surface for John Kloss and his tap dancers to close this multi-faceted evening of fun dancing.

First:  Deborah Slater Dance Theater. Photo by Marty Sohl.
Second:  Huckabye McAllistair Dance. Photo by Andi Mogg.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 15
26 April 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano




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