Sunday, May 22, 2016

Robert Moses' KIN

Robert Moses’ KIN
21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts
Z Space, San Francisco
May 21st, 2016

The latest full-length contemporary dance from Robert Moses’ KIN has a memorable title, 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts. The number twenty-one, of course, is in honor of the company’s twenty-first season. Then, there are two contrary states placed in the same container – ‘fully realized’ and ‘incomplete’. Choreographed by Moses, the world premiere work lives into its title with a series of highly developed episodes, each one independent and in progress yet also part of a whole. Individual segments strung together like beads that in the end, created a unique work of art.

For 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts, Moses transformed Z Space. The usual bleacher seating was reduced, the stage floor expanded, and the audience was set up on both sides of a long performance corridor. This made for an interesting perspective when viewing the piece. Some events happened right in front of you, and others were at quite a distance. Harkening back to the delicious enigma and duality suggested by the title of the dance.

Pictured: Norma Fong
Photo: Victor Talledos
Six of the seven dancers began at the back of the space and with distinct movement characteristics, traveled the length of the ‘runway’, as one dancer sat watching them at the opposite end. While the score morphed into an 80s/90s style rock ballad, the cast continued their journey, exploring the path with trios, pas de deuxs and solos. Over the next sixty-five minutes, twenty-one varied ‘chapters’ unfolded. From Vincent Chavez and Hien Huynh’s brief but angry rant with rolls of bubble wrap to Norma Fong’s gorgeous solo, set to a layered mash-up of Ave Maria and Prelude No. 1 in C Major by J.S. Bach. From a collection of powerful arm gestures to the women’s Graham-influenced unison floor sequence near the end of the piece.

Where 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts struck most strongly was in its form and structure. Texturally, Moses included a trench of wood chips on one end of the stage, which scattered randomly as the piece progressed. And while I didn’t totally understand the relevance of the bubble wrap, it certainly contributed yet another unexpected quality and consistency to 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts.

Having each episode be its own and yet be related to a larger choreographic statement was a fascinating way to build a dance. And this was accomplished by keeping some elements consistent across the board. First was the mood. 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts was dark, heavy and serious, even angst-filled. This read very clearly throughout the entire piece with just a brief moment of lightness injected into Crystaldawn Bell’s final solo. Dynamics served as a second throughline with constant high levels of intensity and energy. And though each part had different choreography and physical vocabulary, isolations, contractions and reflexes were recurring themes.


21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts is a mesmerizing composition of cutting-edge choreography danced by a talented and dedicated ensemble. It’s only challenge that it is far too long.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Smuin Ballet - Dance Series Two

Smuin Ballet
Dance Series Two
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 8th, 2016

Over the weekend, Smuin Ballet launched a six-week tour of “Dance Series Two”, starting at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This final offering of the twenty-second season brings another of their diverse mixed repertory programs to stages around the greater Bay Area. And it was also the first that I have seen that didn’t include any choreography by Founder Michael Smuin. “Dance Series Two” paired two returning works - Val Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (2014) and Jiří Kylián’s Return To A Strange Land  (1975) – with the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s Oasis.

The title says it all with Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink), an eleven-part movement suite set to music by Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. And I use the term ‘movement suite’ purposely, because Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino is filled with every type of physicality you could imagine. The curtain rises to a striking initial image – the entire ensemble, at different facings, standing still in 5th position. Elegant phrases with unexpected infusions fill this introductory chapter: ballet, percussive footwork, sprinter-inspired poses. That mixology continued throughout, an array of ingredients in perfect ratios. Erica Felsch, Robert Kretz and Robert Moore’s cannoned rond versé, ending in a deep side lunge; Nicole Haskins’ quick grapevine on pointe; Weston Krukow’s swirling torso; the courtly entrance/exit of couples; the neo-classical partnering by Krukow and Erin Yarbrough-Powell; Haskins’ super-passé, neither a closed or open position, instead existing deliciously in between. Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino is a great piece for this company, and shows once again Caniparoli’s skill as a choreographical mixologist. But it is desperately calling for live musical accompaniment.

In its four gorgeous sections, Kylián’s Return To A Strange Land  (1975) takes its audience on an emotional journey. There is no linear story, yet clear feelings, moods and narratives abound through the work. Part I’s pas de trois (Yarbrough-Powell, Kretz and Dustin James) is equal parts solemn and hopeful as the three bodies weave tenderly and introspectively. Erica Chipp and Ben Needham-Wood attended the second section with maturity, depth and a sense of knowing. But there was also a profound duality at play – one minute they were soaring and swimming through the air and the next they were pulled to the floor with knee turns and skimming spins. The third chapter begins with Yarbrough-Powell and Kretz looking into the wings; trying to glimpse someone or something. And the duet that unfolds is one of that outward impulse, one of looking, one of searching. Part IV’s pas de trois (Chipp, Needham-Wood and Rex Wheeler) starts as a circuit of balances and picturesque tableaux. Then, through a series of temps levées, crescendos into large jumps of abandon. And you cannot talk about Return To A Strange Land without mentioning the phenomenal (and daring) balances that Kylián created to close each portion of the ballet. 

Pictured: Robert Moore and Terez Dean in
Helen Pickett's Oasis
Photo: Keith Sutter
“Dance Series Two” concluded with the premiere of Pickett’s much-anticipated Oasis, original score by Jeff Beal. Oasis starts with a musical entr’acte of sorts; a whimsical melody that felt bright and free. As the lights came up, wave-like structures comprised of flexible strands (design by Emma Kingsbury) hung from the rafters and water bubbles were projected onto them. All these collaborative elements set an impeccable framework for the ballet that would develop in the next thirty minutes, a dance of true splendor. Everything about Pickett’s Oasis was full – full cast, full throttle performances, full conceptual exploration through mesmerizing choreography. Coming from upstage, the dancers broke through the ‘curtains’, arms billowing, feet striking the ground in piqué, like droplets in a pool; legs kicked into the space, imaginary water being flicked off their toes. The ensemble (which the program says was sixteen dancers but I only counted fourteen) rushed the stage in a mystical, intoxicating sequence, almost like they were casting a spell. Packed with long extensions, a sensual duet for Felsch and Krukow fed into a flirty ballroom waltz – couples cleverly darting in and out of the wings. Moore and Terez Dean offered another tactile duet of longing and impulse. Small movements would ripple through and affect the entire body, as with water. A tiny circle of the leg would evolve into a huge rond de jambe; pas de chevals grew into full extensions. And these were just a few of the standout moments from Oasis. I believe this the second full-length piece of Pickett’s that Smuin Ballet has added to their repertoire, Petal being the first. Both are phenomenal works that marry traditional and contemporary ballet with ingenuity and gumption.


Smuin Ballet’s “Dance Series Two” runs for another weekend in San Francisco before heading off to Walnut Creek, San Mateo and Carmel.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

"The Missing Generation"

Fresh Meat Productions presents
The Missing Generation
by Sean Dorsey Dance
Z Space, San Francisco
May 7th, 2016

Incredibly moving. If I was asked to describe Sean Dorsey Dance’s The Missing Generation, those are the words I would choose. And yet that phrase doesn’t even begin to do this amazing piece justice. Choreographed and written by Artistic Director Sean Dorsey, The Missing Generation is a contemporary dance work that examines the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It talks about those who were lost in the prime of their lives. It talks about those who lived through and survived the horrors of that time, those who witnessed the senseless decimation of their community. It talks about those living with these memories still today. At its heart, The Missing Generation is an artistic dissertation on remembering.

As a dance writer, I usually take a lot of notes during performances. But there are the few instances where I don’t do that, and it’s because I am completely engrossed in what is happening on the stage. Dorsey’s The Missing Generation was one of those rare experiences.

Performed by the spellbinding quartet of Dorsey, Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones and Nol Simonse, the sixty-five minute piece was scored by a combination of music and stories – real-life stories that Dorsey had compiled from individuals who experienced the early days of HIV/AIDS. There were stories of sorrow, stories of loss, stories of trauma. Sharp isolations, spasms and contractions shook through the bodies on stage; spinning motifs spoke to uncertainty, desperation and frustration. There were stories of love, stories of togetherness. Hands held the other tenderly, bodies locked in embrace, breath was in tandem. Unison sequences required each of the four dancers to tune into the other’s intention and need; three dancers lifted the fourth high in the air (a recurring motif); arms opened wide in second position.

There were vulnerable personal stories, stories of both hiding and searching. During one of these particularly striking moments, Dorsey staged dance and choreography that went in and out of a single spotlight on the stage. Brilliant. And even in the midst of this sober subject matter, Dorsey managed to inject some lightness. Of note were the academic deconstruction of paradigms, stereotypes and terminology and the 1970s-style club duet (by Jones and Simonse).

Pictured:
Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones, Sean Dorsey, Nol Simonse
Photo: Kegan Marling
But the most powerful stories were those of community. The final unison scene felt like a group meditative practice. Gorgeous partnering abounded with supported arabesques and cantilevered physical sculpture. This choreographic theme was peppered throughout The Missing Generation, and its importance to the work is crucial. In order to attain these positions in space, the four dancers had to be all in, counter-balancing each other, supporting one another. Each individual in a collective working together to accomplish something bigger.


Sean Dorsey Dance’s The Missing Generation is an iconic work of contemporary performance; one that I believe will be staged for years to come. It is that important. Not just as a noteworthy work of choreography (which it is) but because of its narrative message. When confronted with deep sorrow, it’s hard to know what to say and thus, we often choose not to say anything. Don’t. Ask, talk and learn.