writers on dancing


One Night Stands

July 15-16
ODC Theater

reviewed by Rita Felciano

Summerfest’s two one-night stands (July 15 and 16) were designed to give less experienced choreographers an opportunity to showcase work. A new wrinkle this year, the idea was that these artists would attract a limited audience, but one made up of the truly curious. Also, since there never seems to be a shortage of fresh voices clamoring to be heard, the organizers could present twice as many artists as would otherwise have been possible. Each evening was to feature six choreographers, primarily in premieres, but since one of them—fortunately one of the better ones, Erica Rebollar [pictured at right]—brought two works, and one choreographer dropped out, the field was left to ten relatively untried dance makers.

While it was gratifying to see promising work by unknown choreographers, and some accomplished pieces by artists who are getting a handle on the task of shaping material, a few works were so poor that one wondered how they could possibly have been sponsored by Summerfest. Artists are chosen on the basis of videotapes; how could there have been such a discrepancy between what must at least have looked promising on tape and what was seen on stage?

The revelation of these two evenings came from the Spanish-born but American-trained Rebollar. An exquisite dancer with the softest of descents and rebounds, an ability to shift weight and direction with great precision, and a knack for creating tightly constructed pieces, Hunter/Hunted and Hope Code took advantage of a varied training which must have included Asian as well as more conventional Western styles in addition, probably, to martial arts and yoga. The deep lunges with one leg straight out to the side, the open body postures and the filigreed hands looked as though they stepped out of a traditional Asian dance drama. Yet the speed, the force of attack, and the complex way of layering material were assertively of today. In Hunter/Hunted, set to a percussive score by David Karagianis, Rebollar deftly shifted back and forth between embodying the hunter and her prey. She gradually tightened the noose until at the end the two merged, as her fingers clenched the imaginary mirror—an image with which the piece had opened.

Hope Code, to Gaelic music and sound design by Charlie Compagnia, was but slightly less interesting, simply because Rebollar used her wide-ranging vocabulary in a somewhat similar fashion. In both works she expanded from a circumscribed area into a wider space only to return to it; both pieces also opened and closed with a singular image—the hand clenching mirror, for the first; arms, stretched up into a source of light, for the second. It will be fascinating to see where this talented artist takes her choreography which at this point is still tightly connected to her own physical training.

Erin Mei-Ling Stuart premiered an attractive ensemble work for five dancers, Type/Set, which used a Christopher Keyes click-clack score based on the sound of typewriters. Stuart last year presented her first full-evening program, and a number of those pieces appeared to have fed into this latest endeavor. Stuart works with a sly sense of humor; it’s not quite confrontational, but has a clear edge to it. She also seems to have an ongoing fascination with stopping flow, freezing her dancers momentarily as if they're caught by a strobe light. Or she poses them like fashion models on runways. It gives her dancers an out-front, very public quality.

Determinately multi-focused and non-narrative in Type, she set her dancers loose into individual trajectories which may or may not intersect. When the dancers did meet, the encounters were almost accidental, except you realized Stuart’s shaping hand in setting up a very tall dancer (the gorgeous Ann Berman) against a tiny one, or in a circle that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. And just when all that frantic activity appeareds to be headed toward a dead end, Stuart brought back a motif of folding hands, or slowed everyone down into simple walking patterns, or had them run a finger up their legs as if lifting a skirt. Its ability to fill the stage with constantly pulsating action with only five dancers was not the least of Type’s attractive traits.

Christy Funsch’s Excitation Modes, which she premiered last year at Dance Mission Theater, is a fleet, loosely constructed affair that afforded the additional pleasure of hearing live music by the San Francisco Guitar Quartet. The musicians, seated at the four corners of the stage, created an aural ambience which swelled and contracted and in which music and dance took turns in the spotlight. This was fragile choreography which started introspectively, a quartet of dancers entering with waves of unison port de bras until one broke off to pursue an individual path. When these somnolent creatures circled one of their own, the latter remained quite indifferent to their presence. Some sections were performed in silence; the dancers appeared to listen to something inside themselves. They were distant from each even when they finally paired off into duets. The choreography was filled with a sense of giving in, of letting go, of not pushing. At the end the tiny Funsch, with her colleagues moving around her, seemed caught in a world not even she quite recognized.

Kegan Marling’s rowdy nine dancer Tails was the most outré of this eclectic collection of Summerfest premieres. Marling, who first made an impression in this year’s Bare Bones concert in a duet choreographed by Jane Schnorrenberg, is a stunning dancer. Evidently he is also something of a would-be shock-the-audience choreographer, except that he delivers his “deviant’s” choreography—as he likes to refer to himself—with such broad strokes that he blunts its impact. Costuming the dancers in black lace/red underwear parodies of formal dress, Marling sent them into tango’s dark underbelly, exploring its sado-masochistic overtones. Though the choreography is rough, even kinky—lots of yanking, throwing, and rolling on the floor—every once in a while you came up for a gulp of air in the shape of some straight forward tango dancing. Water sounds were ingeniously mixed with Oliver Nco’s “Messages from Orion, Part 1.” Despite its abundant energy and considerable spunk, Tails ultimately felt dull. It needs more of an edge.

Brittany Brown’s duet Recollection, unfortunately danced in dowdy blue flower dresses with inserted panels, recalled Aristophanes' idea that love is the result of a single being having been split into two; the two halves are for ever searching for each other. Brown partnered Emma Stewart in a series of catch and escape maneuvers in which Brown frequently ended reaching into the void. At one point Stewart raced off stage only to return to leap into Brown’s arms. The piece was quite ingenious in the way it explored connectedness through cantilevered balances, interlocking body parts, dynamic sculptural formations and a wonderful sense of give and take between the two partners.

Brief Couplets' In Violent Times showed its dead pan choreographer Susan Donham torn between a tall fierce Jennifer Patrick and a slouchy, folded in on herself Charlotte Mayang. Quietly amusing, this simple clearly designed work was not without poignancy.

Also programmed were works by Carmen Carnes Buemann, Sing Me Home/Sick Blues; Abigail Hosein’s septet I dreamed of silver birds, Marisa Pugliano’s seven and a half and Nora Chipaumire’s Kaffir.

copyright 2003 by Rita Felciano






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