ODC Theatre, San Francisco
July 18, 2003
by Paul Parish
Things happen. I got waylaid by a suicide on the way
to ODC theater for last weekend's installment of Summerfest.
He didn't speak to me, I didn't even see him—I
just heard the smack of a body hitting the front of
the train I was about to get on, felt my heart sink,
and couldnt bear to look to see what had happened.
It was clear from the sound.
was standing all the way forward; the train stopped
about ten feet back from me, and the large Saturday-night-in-the-City
crowd waiting to board had the reactions you might expect
"oh my God! Oh my God!' kind of topped the list,
followed by "He just ran right by me and tossed
himself at it
." Mixed with "Well, can we
get on anyway?' and the driver's deadly voice saying,
"Honey, this train isn't going anywhere till the
ambulance gets here," and the PR voice coming over
the loudspeakers announcing a "medical emergency"
asking people to clear the platform.
could you do? I was by myself, useless, suddenly a lot
more alone, not just a guy without a date on a Saturday
night. I hadn't SEEN anything, though there'd been a
kind of sparkle over my right shoulder, like a flurry
of leaves or something, the sound had been unmistakable
The best I could do was to counsel people to avoid the
scene, and figure out if there was any other way to
get to the show. And there was
. the Fremont line would
be blocked for hours, but I'd have had to transfer anyway;
I could get there from Rockridge.
heard at the box office and held the curtain for us.
But nothing nearly so dramatic happened on the stage.
was not a bad show at all—two events were able
to hold my attention, and many dissociated images keep
coming back. The sweetest of all was Brian Fisher making
a pair of soaring pas de chats look like Valentine hearts
floating in mid-air. He was dancing the dream-lover
in a faintly parodic version of the balcony scene from
Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Rebecca
Salzer, to Prokofieff's music (canned of course,
and taken at a particularly schmaltzy tempo).
is a prodigiously gifted dancer. Strong and beautifully
made, he has a ton of moxie, not to mention more turnout
and flexibility than many female dancers. After success
in musicals (he was in La Cage aux Folles on
Broadway), he turned to concert dancing and has been
a star of ODC/SF for a decade in an idiom that valorizes
a pedestrian attitude and has no immediate use for matinee
idols. But he moonlights a lot; in this year's Summerfest,
he holds the record for dancing in the most choreographers'
called it back-stage "Romie-old and Juli-atric,"
and it was endearingly funny, though the tone was uncertain.
That music is so big, and so familiar. The stage was
bare—a couple of hands brought out a ladder, placed
it up left, and a not-so-very-young girl (Dana Lawton)
in a frumpy nightgown climbed up it and began to mime
plaintively, with clumped hands and a dejected slump
in the rib-cage. The piece would have been more fun
for us if she'd played it a la Carol Burnett —but
then, maybe you have to BE Carol Burnett, or have the
ambition to supplant her, to pull that off. As it was,
they didn't really pull anything off; he did a lot of
grand allegro, she came down from the ladder and was
persuaded to lift her legs a little, and turn a bit—she
turns beautifully. About the best you could say is they
each had good moments. There was a long, long kiss at
the end that was kind of embarrassing, and made me wonder
if it was maybe not supposed to be a parody.
aim to please was also out front in Upstream
and Concubine, both by Oakland Ballet's Michael
Lowe, danced by Moving Arts Collective to traditional
music of Mongolia and China. Lowe, who grew up in Oakland's
Chinatown, was one of Ronn Guidi's most-relied-upon
dancers; he played Anton Dolin's role, the acrobat,
when they reconstructed Nijinska's Le Train Bleu,
he was a very moving Albrecht in Giselle, and
everything in between. And it turns out, he can make
dances. For Bamboo, a fusion of Chinese acrobatics,
folk-dance and martial arts with ballet, he won last
year's Isadora Duncan Award for choreography. The slight
pieces he showed at Summerfest were no more than charming,
but they were never less than that, either.
strongest piece on the show, both in certainty of purpose
and in edge of execution, was Kimiko Guthrie's
There. Ms. Guthrie's shows are always heavily
attended by other dancers; she's probably on everybody's
short list of whose work is most interesting.
arresting, clear, There is nevertheless hard
to describe. Ms Guthrie has caught that moment when
you were first spooked by an image of yourself as suddenly
old: like seeing your father's face in the mirror when
you shave, seeing his bone-structure around your own
eyes, so you realize that you're not as free as you
thought. You shudder—you WILL get old, and there
are underlying patterns in life you can't escape from.
she's made it reverberate: the whole scene wobbles on
that shock of recognition, repeated over and over with
variations. Two chairs, two men: Eric Kupers (Ms. Guthrie's
ex-husband,who looks to be around 30), and Frank Shawl,
who was a star in May O'Donnell's company in New York
40 years ago and now heads the main modern-dance studio
in the East Bay. Confront and recoil, confront and recoil.
There's a chorus of two women, Erin Gottwald and Debbie
Kajiyama (who're astonishingly effective in presenting
the frantic emotions that don't come into the men's
faces/postures) and Ms. Guthrie herself, who narrates
from her own script (she's skilled, both as a diseuse
and as a writer).
Guthrie-Kuperses were members of the Margaret Jenkins
Dance Company until recently; each excels at that contact-improv
derived kind of partnering where someone suddenly hurls
himself across the stage and is arrested in mid-air
upside down across your shoulders and slowly wheeled
around in this preposterously extended position. They
have made the most theatrically successful USE of this
technique I've seen from a Bay Area group, in shaping
danced stories that center around very awkward intimacies.
Ms Guthrie is bi-racial (half Japanese-, half Scottish-American)
and she has made the conflicts of her heritage the theme
of some of her work (at least one piece, set in a World-War-II
Japanese-American internment camp, featured her father,
who's a skilled actor).
were two other pieces on the program: a lovely study
in release technique by Megan Nicely,
who moves like spaghetti floating in a slowly simmering
bath. (She was joined in the duet by Audrey Cooper.)
Rounding out the show was an amusing set of skits performed
to great old dance tunes (an Oriental Fox-trot, a blues
song, and I think a tango) by members of the Huckabay
McAllister group (Ann Berman, Rebecca Graham,
Phil Halbert, and Sean McMahon). Ms. Berman's got a
million-dollar smile. She preened deliciously as a "Chicago"-style
murderess, posing for photos with her kill. I could
wish that this very popular group would work more sinuously
with the actual dance rhythms of the music they choose
(which is always great stuff, and begs to be DANCED
to; they use it as an aural décor, which may
be their decision, but it has the probably unintended
effect of dwarfing their efforts, at least for me; the
music carries me away, and I just periodically check
in to see what they're up to.)
just found this in the paper.....
jumps into BART's path, lives
Paul Parish 2003
by Michael Lowe performed by Barbara Giusti and Devon
LaRussa (photo by Scott Belding)
Bottom: Huckabay McAllister dancers Phil Halbert
& Ann Berman. Photo by Andy Mogg