writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Good Intentions

The Grim Arithmetic of Water
Jo Kreiter/Flyaway Productions
Cowell Theater
January 23, 2004

by Rita Felciano
Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano

Jo Kreiter is fixated on steel. The fascination with metal has lead her to dance on scaffolds, fire escapes, industrial cranes and a variety of contraptions she had built for herself and her mostly female Flyaway Productions ensemble. The contrast between the fluidity of the human body and the hardness of the inflexible material creates a tension that may account for part of Kreiter’s ongoing partnering with metal. But from a practical point of view, it allows her to defy gravity—or at least create the illusion—with airborne choreography that often embodies a kind of yearning for a world that is more just than the one we live in.

With her latest endeavor of art rooted in social activism, The Grim Arithmetic of Water, Kreiter took on the one resource without which life cannot exist. Eloquently she states in her program notes: “Tonight, we illuminate thirst, so that we might cultivate just a little more commitment to a water ethic that embraces sustainability for everyone.” A noble goal, but problematically realized in an imagistic work whose choreography finally did not rise to the quality of its production values.

The stage picture was dominated by two elegant towers (by David Fredrickson)in which a series of buckets attached to a pulley system drew and distributed the precious commodity. Center stage a small translucent pool inside a decorative steel frame served both as a village well and a place of personal exploration. In the second half of the piece the dancers also performed on two trapezes and translucent canisters of salt/sand that eventually released their content. Mathew Antaky, always an excellent designer, created the subtle and beautifully differentiated lighting. The musical score’s dramatic ebb and flow and textural nuances by Jewlia Eisenberg, who also is an extended-technique vocalist, communicated with the type of expressive power that the choreography needed.

Kreiter structured the hour-long piece as a series of distinct episodes. The idea, no doubt, was that their accumulating impact would hold the piece together. But individually these segments were too bland to stand on their own, not to speak of carrying the piece forward. At its best, Arithmetic spoke with something akin to a simple meditative voice but it was too weak to speak for a full hour.

Simplicity and a certain athletic straightforwardness are hallmarks of Kreiter’s choreography which can be lyrical and subtle even though it demands great, particularly upper body, strength. Here the plainness told us what to think, but it didn’t show it. Neither did it allow for any nuances.

Arithmetic started promisingly with a dancer pulling the rope that set the water delivering system in motion. Guided by the woman’s hands, the buckets rose and emptied their shimmering content. She seemed fascinated by the simplicity of the system even though at one point she had to put her back straining into the ropes.

An ensemble dance of embracing hugs and sturdy lifts around the “well” engaged the dancers in celebrating each other and the water. They cavorted on the rim, dipped their feet and leaned their face into it, but the episode didn’t go anywhere. Similarly a flailing and gasping solo probably meant to suggest dying from thirst; it left a contorted Aimee Lam collapsed on the ground. But its overblown language was too melodramatic to state anything beyond the obvious.

The extended solo for Tam Welch, a striking performer whose shaven head seemed a logical extension of her almost nude body, was much too long. However, it did have something resembling a trajectory to it. At first sloshing and luxuriously curling up inside the pool, her movements, like an approaching tornado’s became increasingly agitated. Finally she rose out of the deep, her pale ghostly body speaking of vulnerability and frailness.

Kreiter also deployed a three woman chorus who provided background and some counterpoint to the solos. Performing in unisons, they circled and balanced glasses of water. At one point precariously tottering on the apron’s edge, they—you guessed it—spilled the liquid into the pit. Unisons can be powerful but because the movement is so exposed it needs to be especially eloquent.

Probably the most problematic scene involved the three hanging canisters of salt/sand. The simplicity of their aluminum/plexiglass design, with its pristine white content, was positively seductive. But as a prop for dancing, a small, enclosed container hanging from a rope has its limitations. You can hug it, climb it and swing from it. Which is exactly what the dancers did. Again and again. At one point the objects momentarily acquired the quality of erotic fetishes—an interesting idea that, however, needed development.

Kreiter usually performs in her pieces. In Arithmetic she did not. Maybe her work needs the kind of specific physicality that she inspires her own dancing and the choreography for herself. Here she did not give the dancers what they needed, and Arithmetic’s wonderful collaborators could not help out.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 4
January 26, 2004
Copyright ©2004 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


This site is the online supplement to DanceView, a quarterly review of dance published since 1979.

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


Copyright ©2003 by by DanceView
last updated on January 26, 2004 -->