Saturday, March 28, 2015

Empty Spaces

Pictured: Erin Kohout
Photo: Rogelio Lopez
Rogelio Lopez & Dancers
Empty Spaces
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
March 27th, 2015

The Dance Up Close/East Bay performance series has a long history of showcasing work from this region’s best emerging choreographic talent. And their current program, Rogelio Lopez & Dancers’ Empty Spaces, is no exception. For this, his first full-length evening of contemporary dance, Lopez went all in, presenting four simultaneous physical meditations in a single program.  

The sold-out audience was divided up and assigned one of four separate rooms. In each of these spaces, a distinct modern dance installation unfolded. Performers entered one studio, engaged in Lopez’s choreography for that space, then exited and moved onto another space to participate in an entirely different variation. An abundance of comings and goings made for a very organic and fluid atmosphere and a perfect portrait of the impermanence that fuels human interaction.

As you walked into Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, the mood was haunting. Not haunted, but haunting. A dark space; luminaries perched in the lobby; a background score of rushing wind. As Empty Spaces began, two women communicated a complex duet, equal parts intimate and bleak. Lit by handheld flashlights, the pas de deux was full of instances where they were forcing each other’s movements. And it was purposefully emotionless, almost stoic - clearly together in the space, but also very detached from each other. This distance was palpable even when they embraced. What a poetic environment Lopez had created – the pair was as close as could be and completely far apart at the same time. As other dancers joined the scene, contact improvisation style lifts made their way into the physical vocabulary. Even though that type of partnering calls for camaraderie, support and awareness, these sequences still felt confrontational. But mid-way through Empty Spaces, there was a turning point, during a women’s trio. The haunting nature of the piece still percolated but a tenderness also started to appear; a softer connection. This carried through to the end of the forty-five minute work, where embraces began to take on a newfound affection. And the final group sequence fed off this duality. What began as a unison set of swinging and circular motifs quickly fragmented like a turning kaleidoscope into various duets and trios.

Two through lines were present in Lopez’s Empty Spaces. Choreographically, no matter what step, what style or what dynamic, the movement always extended beyond. Beyond the fingers, beyond the toes, beyond the top of the head, beyond the solar plexus. The choreography was not about the endgame or making a specific shape, rather, it was a journey of continual energy and a pathway of growth. Narratively, Lopez revealed that the notion of something being ‘haunting’ exists on a spectrum. The term does not have a single point of definition, and while it often feels negative, it isn’t always that. Instead, it is a complicated and fluctuating idea with a wider interpretation. Haunting experiences can absolutely be foreboding, hopeless and traumatic. But others may be more of a mystical and unforgettable nature. And Empty Spaces demonstrated that on occasion, some may even contain a little ounce of grace.     

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


ODC/Dance presents
ODC/Dance Downtown
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
March 22nd, 2015

ODC/Dance marked its 44th home season with the annual yearly program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ODC/Dance Downtown. Weekend one welcomed the return of last year’s boulders and bones, choreography by Brenda Way and KT Nelson, while the second weekend brought a set of world premieres – Nelson’s Dead Reckoning and another Way/Nelson collaborative project, The Invention of Wings.

The curtain rose on Dead Reckoning to immediately erupting action, like the start of a race. Dancers turned, jumped and dived around the stage in a swirl of movement, resembling fireworks. Legs kicked outward and arms pushed through space; Nelson’s choreographic vocabulary an unexpected combination of punchy and sculptural. Dead Reckoning reads as an A-B-A structure, with a fast, slow, fast section breakdown. Throughout each of these chapters, the motion was continuous; every instant feeding seamlessly into the next. By avoiding stops and starts, Nelson connected the dance’s sub-sections and kept the forward motion going. While that connectedness and continuity was a great achievement in Dead Reckoning, the middle section (the slow one) had its challenges. The movement intention definitely carried through and it had some beautiful solos (particularly by Jeremy Smith, Josie G. Sadan and Katherine Wells) but the functionality and purpose of this lengthy meditation was unclear. In the last movement of Dead Reckoning, we were treated to a pas de deux, danced by Natasha Adorlee Johnson and Joseph Hernandez, one of ODC’s most exciting pairings. Their pas de deux was brief, but these two dancers are simply electric when they are on stage together. Design-wise, lime green ‘snow’ (concept by ODC company dancer Yayoi Kambara) was utilized during the whole dance – falling from the rafters and from the hands of the dancers. By the end of Dead Reckoning, the stage was bathed in this snow, reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s Carnations.

Way and Nelson’s The Invention of Wings starts with a prelude of sorts. With the house lights still up and the audience filing in from intermission, a long ream of white paper is rolled out on the stage from upstage to downstage. On one end, dancers were writing on the paper and at the other end, dancers were ripping off pieces, crumpling them into balls and placing them into a wire birdcage. Right from the start, there was a feeling of impermanence; something being created and them immediately being erased. The Invention of Wings is strong, rich and diverse from a design perspective. With light/scenic design by Matthew Antaky and visuals by Ian Winters and RJ Muna, something new and
Pictured: Corey Brady and Natasha Adorlee Johnson
Photo: RJ Muna
theatrical was constantly arising. Blood red fabric panels, men in black skirts being wheeled around the stage, numbers being painted on backs, a torn and fragmenting video screen, giant falling ribbons, figures clad in large white paper, a dancer rising out of the pit with a giant, flowing skirt. Even a leaf blower made an appearance. Events and scenes were constantly shifting and evolving, which again spoke of the initially established impermanence as well as the notion of the unexpected. Sometimes The Invention of Wings felt like a religious ritual; sometimes, a boy-band performance. Sometimes there was amplified vocalization and counting; sometimes a comment on corporeal presence. Putting all these ideas into the same piece can totally work; collage and layering can be very powerful in performance. But at the same time, with an abundance of different elements, it can be difficult for a dance to find its true identity. This core essence did prove elusive for The Invention of Wings.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Joffrey Ballet

Cal Performances presents
Joffrey Ballet
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
March 15th, 2015
by Heather Desaulniers

The Joffrey Ballet has a signature look, or maybe it’s more accurate to say a signature style. Fusion ballet. Fused genres sometimes get a bad rap because the term implies that two styles are simply being meshed together. But ever since Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe in 1973, The Joffrey Ballet has proven time and again that fusion ballet works. It is a distinct mix of traditional, classical elegance and edgy, contemporary surprise. And The Joffrey Ballet’s recent engagement at Cal Performances confirmed that they do fusion ballet better than anyone.

Val Caniparoli’s Incantations was full of geometric curves – from the costumes and spiral hanging lights (both designed by Sandra Woodall) to the abundance of upper body curves in the choreography. When Aaron Smyth was on stage, it was impossible to take your eyes off him, especially in the middle section of the ballet. His jump sequence had height, ballon and technical accuracy, but the landings! Not only did his heels fully meet the ground after every jump, the landings were silent. No sound whatsoever. Caniparoli’s choreography was spot on throughout Incantations, including a lovely pas de trois three quarters of the way through. There was just one puzzling moment. Toward the end of the piece, an African dance motif popped up in one of the men’s solos. The movement itself wasn’t puzzling, but the fact that it was only used twice and introduced so late in the game made it seem out of place.

Up next was Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony, a three-part work that the Joffrey originally premiered back in 2012. The first movement was by far the best of the bunch - the music, lighting design and choreography conjuring a life-size chess game. The queen was present in this chapter along with five pawns. Each dancer got a chance to solo, showing what they could do as individuals, and through duets and group sequences, what they could accomplish as a collective. Unfortunately, the second and third movements lost this whimsy, and the forward momentum of the work stalled. Jeraldine Mendoza and Miguel Angel Blanco danced the second movement’s lengthy duet. Mendoza and Blanco both have significant technical and artistic acumen, but visually, they made a rather curious pair. And though Travis Halsey’s costume design showed some out-of-the-box thinking, the armpit cutouts on the men’s wardrobe were an odd choice and not very flattering. After a brief pause, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili took the stage in the stunning pas de deux from Yuri Possokhov’s Bells – a meditation of dynamic highs and lows, choreographic simplicity and complexity, sweet moments alongside dramatic interactions.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Cal Performances program closed with creative gusto as the company took the stage in Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31. A solo dancer (dapperly attired in a suit) turns on a lamp downstage left, and begins to walk in slow motion across the front of the stage. The curtain periodically rises and falls revealing the rest of the cast looking part punk youth culture part futuristic restaurant staff (Luke Simcock’s costumes being a wild combination of black and white). Ekman’s choreography was equally diverse with ballet, tap, modern and calisthenics. And so was the mood and energy – a meditative section would morph into pandemonium; hysteria would halt to become stillness. As the first dancer continued his slow motion route around the edge of the stage, the curtain remained open revealing the fullness of the party scene. A community of folks working together, enjoying each other and celebrating life. As the suit finishes walking the perimeter, he turns off the lamp and Episode 31 is over. Why was he there? What was his function? Was he just an observer? Did he want to be part of the action? Was he trying to box in those who are unconventional? None of these questions were answered, and that is why Episode 31 is truly a great dance.

Pictured: Derrick Agnoletti and Aaron Rogers in Ekman's Episode 31
Photo: Cheryl Mann