writers on dancing


Quintessential Bluethenthal

Anne Bluethenthal
July 18-20
Dance Mission Theater

reviewed by Rachel Howard

Whatever doubts political cynics might have about Anne Bluethenthal's optimistic worldview, you have to be glad it's out there. Bay Area residents were especially grateful for her healing message nearly two years ago, when she brought together Israeli and Palestinian musicians for the hopeful Tears of Rock, which by one of those strange strokes of history just happened to premiere right after 9/11.

In the tempestuous time since, Bluethenthal has turned away from specific conflicts and back to that great Goddess of artistic themes, the human condition. The result was the grandly positioned "fourth chamber" of her series The Heart Is a Live Thing. Global Heart ran two July weekends at Dance Mission Theater. It was, for better and for worse, quintessential Bluethenthal.

Bluethenthal's great asset as both a choreographer and a dancer is her earnestness and simplicity. Sophistication, it would seem, is antithetical to her personal philosophy. One does not attend an Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers concert looking for complex sociological analysis or a nuanced portrait of human relations. When, during the stirring opening performance by the four-member Cultural Heritage Choir, two kids were sent to prance about the floor while the lyrics spoke of praying for the children, you knew just what you were in for during the dance ahead. And yet even choreographically, Global Heart was thin.

As Bluethenthal wrote in her program notes, Global Heart "conceptualizes through word and movement the possibility of a cosmic heart that is the origin of life as we know it." What this amounted to visually was nine dancers dressed in shredded earth tones, oozing like primordial mud through Bluethenthal's soft and breathy steps.

They paired off to cradle one another; they punched at each other (though gently—even the most aggressive of Bluethenthal's movements have not a hint of real violence in them) and then hugged one another in ecstatic reconciliation. In between these repetitive episodes, Bluethenthal and Benita Ward delivered extremely mild-mannered rants hitting the usual broad targets—materialism and commercialism—and a "priestess" arrived to trade in the dancer's purchases for primitive and pure spiritual relics. A comic interlude offering the cure for "heart disease"-organic and non-GMO foods-quickly exhausted itself.

Longtime Bluethenthal collaborator Marc Ream's richly textured score (with live, generally lyric-less singing by Susan Volkan), however, kept the work's pulse throbbing. And ABD's dancers flowed through the relentless, intermissionless 75 minutes like lifeblood. Bluethenthal has assembled her strongest company in years. Laura Elaine Ellis, with her knowing stare and unwavering balance, transformed the banal phrases of her solos into an urgent message. Well-muscled Zimbabwean Nora Chipaumire, quickly becoming a fixture on the Mission Dance scene, gave every kick pinpoint focus. Chimene Pollard's liquid extension rivaled her wise set of jaw for sheer beauty.

But Ream's 4/4 meters seemed to reinforce Bluethenthal's rhythmic rut, with the anguished poses, palms outstretched, striking "Vogue"-like on every fourth beat. Nor was there much play with gesture to thread you through a work that could have been twice as good at half the length. Sometimes simple messages, however needed in today's world, are more potent in smaller packages.

copyright 2003 by Rachel Howard
Photos:  Andy Mogg







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(c) 2003 by danceviewwest
page last updated: July 19, 2003