Friday, August 05, 2016

"Do Be"

The Living Earth Show and Post:Ballet present
Do Be
Z Space, San Francisco
Aug 4th, 2016

Get set for a deliciously wild ride of imagination, whimsy and capriciousness with Do Be, an artistic experience created by Post:Ballet and The Living Earth Show. Post:Ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Dekkers and The Living Earth Show co-founders Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson have launched a production filled with innovative choreography and narrative revelation set amidst epic unconventionality. In addition, Do Be speaks to the convergence of compositional independence and interdependence. Each of its six individual chapters is its own unique theatrical container, featuring a different commissioned score, performed live by Andrews on guitar and Meyerson on percussion. And yet there is an undercurrent of connection running through. The resulting full-length work takes a deep dive into creative collaboration and explores the choreographic, musical, design and conceptual possibilities within twenty-first century dance theater performance.

A mystical prelude of sorts, Pasturing I served as an introduction and invitation into the strange and unusual world of Do Be. Right from the start, the notion of extremes rang clear. Slowly the dancers entered the stage, costumed in a heady mix of futuristic metallics and romantic gauze, by Post:Ballet Creative Director Christian Squires. Jacob Cooper’s ambient, atmospheric score was peppered with sounds of breaking dishes and power tools, which happened live in an opaque onstage cubicle and was projected on the floor downstage center. Unison duets and partnered pas de deuxs emerged in the space; Dekkers’ choreography varying from specific gestures to high extensions to Graham-inspired pleadings, spirals and floorwork. The mood shifted from measured and meditative to dramatic and expansive and back again. You didn’t know what to expect from one minute to the next, and that was glorious.

I had seen the next two chapters before, on separate occasions – Family Sing-A-Long and Game Night last summer and Tassel in the fall of 2014. Many of my original observations held true, though with both there was also an opportunity to experience newness. Family Sing-A-Long and Game Night posits the familiar – well-known folk and children’s songs, egalitarian movement and party games - repetition, accumulation and crescendo bringing a sense of theatricality to each. But at its core, Family Sing-A-Long and Game Night is all about defining oneself in situations that are steeped in assumption - challenging constraint, messing up structure, confronting the appropriate. This could not have been clearer in the ‘chair sequence’. As the company sat in chairs, moving in unison, their feet twitched, they swayed back and forth, they drew their knees to their chest. It looked like a group of children or adolescents (or maybe even adults) struggling with certain expectations of behavior. While half of the company cleaned up the birthday cake that had been presented to and wrecked by Charles Martin at the end of Family Sing-A-Long and Game Night, Tassel began to unfold, and the notion of extremes was revisited. At first, its series of gestures and sculptural poses seemed somewhat sedate and calm. But quickly, that stylized physicality built and grew into a chaotic frenzy. Bodies ping-ponged all over the stage, clothes were discarded; a group of individuals disengaging with one reality and searching frantically for another.

The Bell, The Ball, The Bow-Tie & The Boot signaled the second half of Do Be. Four dancers in rolling mobile wardrobes encircled a soloist (Kar Will.), while swarming patterns were projected on the stage floor. Throughout the lengthy sequence, Cora Cliburn, Aidan DeYoung, Gabriel Mata and Vanessa Thiessen would emerge from their cocoons in different costumes to engage with Will. in a variety of interactions. It felt ancient and apocalyptic, primal and mysterious, all at the same time. I also couldn’t shake a retro, old school video game vibe. And while this segment felt a little long, there was plenty to capture the attention, from gorgeous upside down balances (on the neck and shoulder) to platform pink high heels. Even gummy worm candy made an appearance.

Rachel Coats with Andy Meyerson of The Living Earth Show
and the dancers of Post: Ballet
Double Happiness from Do Be
Photo: Natalia Perez
By far, the highlight of the evening was Double Happiness, a flowing ensemble dance, gorgeously led by Rachel Coats. In a yellow tulle skirt with balloons attached to her back, Coats began sweeping through the space - developpés soaring in second position, high relevés freezing in time. Following her phenomenal solo, Coats was joined by four similarly costumed dancers (Cliburn, Caroline Langner, Martin and Jackie McConnell) and by Will. A feeling of forwardness, encouragement and community overwhelmed the stage. But Double Happiness was still avant-garde, to be sure. As the five yellow-clad performers stood on an angle, vibrating their hands, moving shoulders up and down and shaking their heads, it was like Serenade had been injected with a high dose of nervous energy and anxiousness.

Pasturing II ushered Do Be to its conclusion. Though it was the final chapter on the program, it was actually the first time that the entire company was onstage together. They traveled from the back of the space towards the audience, first in slow motion, and then moving with increased power and drive. Giant lifts, cantilevered partnering and dizzying spins were interspersed with moments of repose. Suspension and release informed movable group structures that came together and broke apart, only to be reformed somewhere else. And in a lovely cadence, the entire Do Be village descended on the stage, led by Dekkers, Andrews, Meyerson and Squires – every collaborator celebrating and delighting in this considerable artistic accomplishment.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"Speak, Angels"

Garrett + Moulton Productions
Pictured: Nol Simonse
Photo: RJ Muna
Speak, Angels
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
July 30th, 2016

The orchestral ensemble and five vocalists took their places upstage. Out of the darkness, an eighteen-member movement choir and six company dancers burst into the space with optimistic energy – lifting each other high in the air, leaping in jubilant assemblés, arms fluttering with joyful promise.

A buoyant opening to Garrett + Moulton Productions’ Speak, Angels, the latest full-length work created by the incomparable team of Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton. Speak, Angels is both stirring and uplifting; a beautiful piece with a multi-layered narrative. It is a project that fills the stage with abundant and varied artistic voices. A dance that shares inspired choreography performed by accomplished practitioners. And while Speak, Angels certainly bears similarities to the company’s previous work (thematic fibers, structural composition and choreographic style), this new world premiere is definitely doing its own thing.

Hope and community flourished throughout the piece (like that shown in the first sequence), yet the face of real challenge was also present - struggle/sorrow and assurance/care co-existing on the stage, as they so often do in life. In Vivian Aragon and Nol Simonse’s first pas de deux, it felt like their bodies were actually crying, while the movement choir tenderly embraced each other in the background. This led into a contemporary court dance for Alison Adnet, Carolina Czechowska, Michael Galloway and Ryan Wang (who were eventually joined by Aragon and Simonse) where fellowship and collective strength sang into the space. In another scene, Czechowska reached through the air, searching for Galloway - he was right in front of her but she couldn’t find him. Aragon and Simonse spent one phrase being lofted by the movement choir. While the accompanying music was somewhat somber, they were being encircled with love. And though the piece slowed a little from time to time, Garrett and Moulton even managed to inject a little humor and whimsy along the way.

The six solo dancers (some veterans of the company, some more recent arrivals) showed great spirit and vitality throughout the hour-plus work. And it was particularly exciting to see real-time dialogue between these dance artists - new relationships developing, existing partnerships deepening.

One notable difference in Speak, Angels is that the role of the movement choir seemed more expansive than in past iterations. Yes, they still communicated a captivating gestural score and embodied a living physical framework, but in addition, there were increased choreographic opportunities for the complete ensemble, for smaller groups and for individuals. And I loved how mid-way through the dance, the movement choir slowly traveled from one side of the stage to the other. It was so subtle (you really didn’t notice it was happening) yet so effective - a true homage to the mystery of changing circumstances.

Friday, July 29, 2016

"Double Exposure"

ODC Theater presents
Double Exposure
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 28th, 2016

Every once in a while, you encounter a contemporary dance company that is extraordinarily special. One that stands out. A group that combines choreographic excellence, innovative structures, groundbreaking concepts and impeccable performances. RAWdance is one of these rare treasures. Co-Artistic Directors Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein are pioneering artists who continually astound with their talent, wit, intelligence and authenticity.

RAWdance’s newest project, Double Exposure, adds yet another creative triumph to their already impressive oeuvre, one that turns to curation, process and form. A collection of thirteen duets, made by sixteen West Coast-based choreographers and danced by Smith and Rein, Double Exposure is an archive of today’s contemporary dance community. It is a testament to the breadth and diversity of choreographic practice. And it is stunning collage of physicality, combined into a single evening-length work.

Double Exposure’s duets were performed in series, one right after the other, with the name of the choreographer illuminated on the back wall. In between each two-four minute variation, a brief pause allowed the dancers to change costumes or sometimes re-arrange the stage space (a stunning display of organizational logistics in its own right). These interludes never felt like a stop in the action, rather, an extension of the dance itself. Many of the breaks included video of or live talking by Smith and Rein. A breaking of the fourth wall to share charming facts about each other, their thoughts about this particular piece of work and in one case, a karaoke mash-up.

Double Exposure opened with Smith and Rein’s own duet. On two chairs, facing each other, they explored different points of contact: forearm grasping forearm, palms cradling the head and feet pushing against the torso. Joe Goode’s mix of text, mirroring, movement scoring and vocals added a dose of realism and humor to the stage. And it also introduced the first instances of that direct and personal conversation between the performer and the viewer (which, as previously mentioned, would recur throughout the work). KT Nelson’s offering was a pas de deux in the true sense of the term. A ‘dance of two’, Smith and Rein never once touched during this highly technical sequence, and yet the continuity and connection of their pairing was overwhelming. Next came a sexy, smoldering statement from Amy O’Neal – a craving pulse rippling through torsos, spines and even the wrists.

Dramatic and clever use of costuming and props informed Monique Jenkinson/Fauxnique’s contribution - a duet that revealed the space between constraint and possibility, using a broad range of movement (from classical ballet all the way to pedestrianism). Holly Johnston brought a narratively-charged piece to the table. Though I’m not completely sure of the exact message at play, the extremely athletic choreography had a sense of urgency and alarm, appropriately underscored by storm-like sounds. Slow, small, contorted movements took focus in Shinichi and Dana Iova-Koga’s duet – fingers reacting to the air, toes articulating one by one. While this style of movement isn’t my personal favorite, the contrast between it and the previous excerpt certainly made for an interesting visual. Tahni Holt’s work was all about struggle with Smith and Rein engaged in a wrestling match, fighting for control and power. Kate Wallich took on form and structure with circuits, repetitive patterns, directional changes and unpredictable lifts. And the turning/spinning segment center stage was a highlight of the entire evening, reminiscent of a record player.

RAWdance's Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein in
Amy Seiwert's duet from Double Exposure
Photo: Andrew Weeks
David Roussève crafted a unison movement phrase for Smith and Rein, one that would morph and evolve over its duration. With decision-making and text prompts, the phrase was repeated multiple times with higher intensity and at faster speed. What started as lyrical quickly became a swirling tornado of energy and emotion. Clarity and intention ran steadily through casebolt and smith’s choreography. This was apparent not only in the specificity of each motion’s beginning and ending point, but also in the journey from one place to another. Ann Carlson provided the most character-driven chapter of Double Exposure. Smith and Rein seemed to be portraying different stages of life – as infants, children, adolescents and adults. A late eighties prom vibe emerged for the final duet, by Amy Seiwert. With such a recognizable scene also come assumptions of what movement might unfold. Seiwert challenged that notion by creating a very contemporary duet in this nostalgic place. There was an egalitarianism surrounding the container, and a delightful unexpectedness in the experience.

Any discussion of RAWdance’s Double Exposure cannot conclude without mentioning Smith and Rein’s radiant performance. The pair moved through thirteen varied duets with such grace, confidence, rigor and strength - all in, all the time. Phenomenal dancers; gifted communicators; accomplished artists. Double Exposure is a definitive tour de force.