writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Riveting Bare Bones Dance

Randee Paufve in Bare Bones
Western Sky Studio
Berkeley, California
March 15, 2004

by Ann Murphy
Copyright ©2004 by Ann Murphy
published May 24, 2004

Low tech concerts are nothing new, but the days when they were the testing ground for work that would inevitably show in an official theater with a proscenium stage, lights, and wings appear over. Now low-tech is frequently as far and as flashy as an artist can get, rather like waking up one day and realizing you’re poor and understanding that eating beans is no longer an alternative to steak, it’s all that you can afford. All of us know the reasons for it: funders aren’t funding, available studio space is shrinking, real estate prices keep rising, and audiences seem less interested in the new, out-of-the-way or experimental dance work than they used to (or did we make that up? Were they ever much interested?).

And yet some wonderful things can happen when the stage is stripped bare and the dancers dash past your feet weaving lines through the room. The encounter has an intensity that is riveting. The house lights are up and even if the dancers look into the middle distance, their gaze and ours do catch. The scrutiny to which this subjects the dancers is agonizing when the work is awful, but the very same scrutiny is exhilarating when the dance is honest, probing or beautifully performed. The shared awareness of performer and viewer becomes a part of the performed experience, and theatrical relationship of a rare kind ensues.

In Randee Pauvfe’s Bare Bones concert last weekend which she shared with two other choreographers and 11 dancers, a concert named for the absolutely basic nature of the production—lights on, dancers entering from the hallway—I not only glimpsed the performers’ awareness of our gazing at them. I could see the effect of that gaze on their bodies. Pauvfe, who is a fiercely exuberant and athletically brainy pessimist of a dancer, at one point expanded into her skin to meet us more fully the way a lover becomes larger in order to reach out to meet the beloved in the space that separates them. She and many of the others performed with an air of utter necessity, which to me is the true test of a dancer: the performer has things to say that can only be said by the body.

Although the dances varied in their success and the dancers themselves, some of them college students, embodied quite a range of technical ability, the overriding experience of Bare Bones was of an evening of dances for grown-ups. This was a collection of work most of which could easily be installed in a gallery at San Francisco MOMA, perhaps next door to a conceptual art installation, or as a curated program on mobile form or temporal art. The intellectual and emotional relief of viewing work freed of pretension and liberated from cliché took me by surprise. It was the artistic equivalent of being engaged in a compelling conversation by very smart and impassioned people. For reasons sometimes too opaque to fathom, although my own tendency is to blame American solipsism and the hermetic isolation of the dance world, such exchanges seem to happen less and less often in modern dance, even as the need for them grows more dire.

Paufve opened the evening by recounting how Bare Bones was the by-product of the lack of funding and suitable space, the way her concert in a downtown Oakland bar was earlier this year. The group hadn’t even had a dress rehearsal, she said, so to-the-bone was it, but, being like a line-up of one-acts, no one seemed to suffer; everyone was thoroughly prepared. Meanwhile, she and a few of the dancers this week launch a tour that included Joyce Soho this week. Pauvfe, like so many artists do, has put all the expenses on her credit card.

Former Bay Area dancemaker Cid Pearlman, now living in LA, opened the night with her premiere of Strange Toys danced by Liz Hoefner and David King with a conviction that made up for their technical limitations. Joan Jeanrenaud, late of Kronos Quartet, composed the music heard Sunday on tape but performed live in Saturday’s performance, a beautiful foray into minimalism that offset lyrical cello against repetitive mechanical sound. The power of the piece lay in its sculptural economy and musically deft counterpoint to the score, with Pearlman making beautiful use of controlled release, cantilevering and freeze frames to convey intimacy and its reverberations among the pair.

Jenn Gierada, a dance colleague of Pauvfe’s from Oregon radically changed the tone and the intensity with a 2003 piece entitled "her leaving" with an original score of industrial sound by Tom Lopez. Gierada’s expressive range exploded the bounds of modern dance when she employed the jerking, robotic motions of break dance that often freeze movement for an instant before shifting angularly into the next series of staccato phrasings. Like Neo in The Matrix, she seemed to struggle heroically with forces of colonization, mechanization, and psychic difficulty, although I found the battle she engaged too global to link to the personal loss evoked by the title.

Former Bay Area resident Lea Wolf, now living in Alabama, followed with "13 Postures to Greet Romantic Desolation." Wolf, a smart, talented dance maker, designed herself into a small performance square outlined by red plastic ribbon, which soon symbolized for me the way she undercuts herself by concentrating on the ideas rather than the ideas in the movement. The imprisoning zone, for irony’s sake, would have been more pointed shaped as a heart, and the 13 postures were far too staid and repetitive, far too dignified and dancerly to aptly convey romantic desolation which, from my own experience, ought to have a healthy dollop of humiliation and ridiculousness, if not near madness, in it. My recommendation for Wolf would be to let herself go wild and see what kinds of movements surface.

Paufve’s Misgivings dates from 2000 but I was seeing it for the first time, and it was in the midst of this trio that was rife with triangulations danced by Mike Barber, Gierada and Paufve that I scribbled in my notebook "dances for grownups." This sense permeated the program, but was solidified in the second half in which Paufve premiered Cleave, a four-part work divided into sections "coming together," "being together," "going apart" and "one".

While Paufve can overuse certain gestures, such as the wrists stuck against the sides of the forehead, and can restrict the arms to the saggital plane too much, she thrillingly plunges her dancers through space on the verge of uncontrollability. What makes this especially gripping is that she keeps one foot planted on the ground as the other dangles over the abyss, thereby capturing the existential unease that hounds contemporary life not to mention modern relationships. She also has profound respect for form, even as she seems to be smashing it, which returns our attention again and again to the shape of the phrases and the direction in which they are headed.

This was keenest in Misgivings where the trio molted into duets that shifted among the players, evoking the polymorphousness of love and attachment and playing on the pure sculptural nature of relationships. In Paufve’s solo, "one," her movement naturally fit her like a glove, and the potency of Paufve as a performer came together with her creative integrity as a choreographer. She embodies a combination of sensual elegance and fever, stark form and wildness.

Set to the ironically sour but propulsive music of Terese Taylor on guitar and Rob Johnson on drums, an indie folk rock sound that has a heroin inspired drawl to it, Cleave was less sculpted and more linear than Misgivings. Jennifer Wright Cook and Erin Gottwald danced "coming together" to the relentless and fiendish 6-count rhythm of the musicians. Stephanie Ballas and Rebecca Johnson injected their own neck-breaking intensity into "going apart." Meanwhile, Sima Belmar and Paufve, who have been working together for years, danced with an ease and shared consciousness that evoked the depth possible in relationships among women and the power of bodies that are so familiar with one another that even their pauses are luscious.

Paufve who was offered a teaching position in Ohio, apparently has decided to stay put, despite the difficulties of being an independent choreographer in the Bay Area. Lucky us. It means more evenings filled with dances for grown-ups.

More bare bones.....

Project Artaud Theater
San Francisco, California
Saturday May 14,

by Ann Murphy
Copyright ©2004 by Ann Murphy
published May 24, 2004

Remember Pilobolus long long ago? No? Well I don’t either. I only saw them after they hit the big time, but I imagine that they had some of the same down-to-earth, off the wall, child-like yet muscular charm that the wacky trio from Binghamton, New York called Galumpha did last Saturday. They perform through next weekend at Theater Artaud, and for Bay Areans if you want a treat, don’t miss it.

Slightly revamped, Artaud is still somewhere between a bona fide proscenium theater and a cavernous dance space. Although there’s now a raised stage space and a front curtain, the old Aluminum Can factory will probably reek of the essential for years to come. To make the place any cushier would call for a venture capitalist willing to burn millions, and there aren’t any of those in sight.

Andy Horowitz, Greg O’Brien and Marlon Torres are Galumpha, and they differ in temperament, body type and areas of expertise sufficiently that the trio congealed into something like a whole—and whole lot bigger—company. I billed the performance as a circus to my children. My 14-year-old came expecting a tent and all kinds of slinky, tacky diversion. The 11-year-old and his friend, age-appropriately, were up for anything, but also wary of clowns that were at first glance not very clownish. But after about 10 minutes, once we all grasped the low-tech, bare bones character of this circus, all four of us were seduced by the magic of what imagination, enormous exertion, the willingness to be fools, and the foolishness to defy gravity can yield. Galumpha was a galloping delight. Was it the kooky satire on Stomp in the piece Clackers that did it, with clacking devices on their shoes and frying pans on their bums? Or was it Window-7 in which they leapt, fell, pantomimed and performed simulated acts of derring do inside the frame of a window looking out, it seemed, on a large sky? Or could it have been the modern dance/ballet spoof Rachmaninoff that sealed their appeal? Doesn’t matter. It was an evening of magical entertainment.

And watch out for the Galumpha-inspired gear that may soon hit the runways. I mean, who can live without a velcro hat?

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 19
May 24, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Ann Murphy




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