writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

A Different Voice

Janice Garrett & Dancers
Cowell Theater
San Francisco, California
March 18, 2004

by Rita Felciano
Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano

It’s exactly two years since Janice Garrett replanted her roots into Bay Area soil, after having spent close to a decade teaching and choreographing in Great Britain and Scandinavia. Since that time the easy flow of her movement-filled choreography, that speak both of invention and maturity, have become a much welcome part of the local scene.

Individual voices, particularly one whose accent is so far removed from what here is considered main stream, are hard to come by. Ironically, Garrett who through her years with the Dan Wagoner company stretches back to pre-postmodern dance, is something of an outsider in this part of the country. Her willingness to make work from a universal perspective and the absence of irony or cynicism make her also something of a much welcome oddity. Garrett has excellent craft; she can fill large-scale structures with finely conceived detail.

That’s why this second anniversary concert, ambitious as it was with three world premieres and the reprise of last summer’s Laulu PaljuI, was something of a disappointment. Even though each piece had its own distinct character, there was something oddly formulaic about the work. Garrison’s dances seem to travel along what could become a predictable trajectory: strophic structures; looping motives; ongoing movement streams; fervent music—often choral, often from the Baltic region.

Path in the Rug, a beautiful duet excellently performed by Heidi Schweiker and Nol Simonse, proved to be the evening’s one unquestioned success. Carried along by the wind-like sounds of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks music for strings, the duo reminded me of the Inferno’s Francesca and Paolo whose fateful love left them helplessly drifting together. These dancers recoiled even as they reached for a touch, clung to each other's limbs or cushioned the other’s fall. But they kept going, their bodies drawing a tired strength from the same breath of air. They couldn’t get away from each other even if they wanted to. At one point, as the music reached the top of its arch, Schweiker collapsed to the floor. She seemed spent. But inevitably they picked up again, touching, pulling away, cradling each other as the piece circled back to its beginning.

The most notable characteristic of the new Rumpus, a loony whirlwind of hyperactivity, were James Meyer and WestonWear’s pastel-colored ruche costumes. They made the stalking-on-tip-toes dancers look like exotic birds, crests and trailing tails included. Opening (and closing) were Heather Tietsort-Lasky and Kara Davis whose smiling faces, naughtily wiggling butts and fluttering fingers looked like something out of an old variety act. Rene Lacaille and Bob Brozman’s Afro-pop harmonica and guitar wailings suggested a crowded seashore cabana on a hot Saturday night, not a mean trick considering that Garrett had only five dancers at her disposal. Amidst the crowded comings and going, these habitues tried out flamenco, tango, congo line and other social dance patterns. Small contractions, a leg shake or two, mixed in with flying jetes and fleeting lifts created a nicely textured feeling. But the piece just didn’t go anywhere, its slavish adherence to the music and the humor, such as it was, wore thin in no time at all.

On a more serious note, Talking with the Dead was announced as the beginning of a longer piece which would explore “mortality and the boundaries between the living and the dead.” Rust-colored translucent banners (by Glen Rogers) matched Meyer’s reddish brown costumes that looked like traveling garb. Matching the stark a cappella American folk hymns, as recorded by the Word of Mouth Chorus and Anonymous 4, was choreography just as plain-spoken and unadorned. The many unisons, either for the whole ensemble, or smaller groups of two and threes, suggested commonality. The horizontal trajectory of lovely little duet between Tietsort-Lasky and newcomer Julian De Leon sent her into his arms. Sitting, lying down and being swept up again were commonly observed motives. While Talking had some elan, the piece meandered, and it’s final procession with lanterns illuminating the way just felt too pictorial.

Last year’s Laulu Palju, to choral music by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, opened with the dancers stacked up in a line, hands in prayer position, advancing forward. But as the strains of what sounded like sacred music began to fill the stage, they raised their arms and one by one they peeled away filling the space with an expanding and contracting energy that never subsided till the music died down at the end. There was a shimmering, sun-flecked quality to these surging clouds of motion, magnified by the dancers’ gauzy tunics. Unison encounters—a serpentine of kicking feet, along a crawling diagonal or for a momentary wedge—seemed almost accidental. But they a brought about a sense of repose and drawing back contrasting wit the many fleeting duets and trios. As the piece progressed, it seemed to develop an upward trajectory, until the dancers gathered in a final communal repose. But then Davis rose again.

Also dancing were Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman and Dana Lee Lawton.

Photos, all from Garrett's Lalu Palju, by RJ Muna

Photo one: Heidi Schweiker, Nol Simonse, Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman

Photo two: Nol Simonse

Photo Three: Bliss Kohlmyer Dowman, Heather Tietsort-Lasky, Nol Simonse


Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 12
March 21, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano




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