Monday, April 14, 2014

AXIS Dance Company

Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, Oakland
April12th, 2014

AXIS Dance Company’s 2014 home season at Oakland’s Malonga Theater was an event to remember. Not only were there two amazing works from Guest Artistic Director Marc Brew and a dance film by Alex Ketley, but also on the program was a re-staged version of Yvonne Rainer’s preeminent post-modern work, “Trio A”.  

Pictured: Joel Brown and Sonsherée Giles
of AXIS Dance Company
Photo: David DeSilva
Seeing any version of “Trio A” live and in person is a gift. Such an integral part of the 1960s postmodern movement, this work still holds such value and necessity for the contemporary dance community, even close to fifty years after its premiere. “Trio A” is devoted to movement, physicality and choreographic tools. And because of its highly structural and formal concerns, the audience becomes privy to a rarely seen phenomenon. One where artistic creation, artistic process and an entire stream of artistic consciousness unfolds, free of constraints, narrative and assumptions. Under the guidance of répétiteur/stager Linda K. Johnson, AXIS Dance Company leapt into this monumental project, bringing the world premiere of their version, entitled “Trio A Pressured #X”. The integrity of the original project was intact – the single task-oriented movement phrase, the lack of eye contact with the audience, dancers beginning the sequence at different times and at different facings. For AXIS, “Trio A Pressured #X” featured four cast members (as opposed to the typical three), and two of the dancers were in wheelchairs. Rainer’s phrase was deeply understood and well-translated by all four, and Johnson did a superb job of staging the work, keeping its true intention yet being open to and exploring the possibilities that came with four uniquely different bodies.

Alex Ketley’s dance film, “The Gift (of Impermanence)” was a visual poem, a tribute to the work of this extraordinary contemporary dance company. Through a revue collection of snippets, excerpts and remembrances, dancers met, interacted with each other through movement and then parted. “The Gift (of Impermanence)” was not a historic chronology of AXIS Dance Company’s past twenty-seven years. Rather, through beautiful and touching dance imagery, Ketley was claiming AXIS Dance Company’s present artistic moment. Marc Brew’s 2008 work, “Remember When”, also began with a film/video segment. A black and white mall scene bustled on the backdrop; its focus, the escalator. Images of Brew dancing in his wheelchair overlaid with the mechanism of the cycling staircase. The film continued and combined with Brew, who was now downstage left. Specific, placed and accented movements spoke of mechanical processes, but with a lush, expansive undertone.

Following intermission, Brew premiered his newest work, “Divide”. Another quartet, this conceptual dance hinted at the space between perception and reality. The lighting design (by Allen Willner) was key to creating and maintaining this theme. Lines and squares of light appeared for a time on the stage, and at one point or another, all four dancers dealt with their real but imaginary existence. When the light was present, it created a true line or space of demarcation. Sonsherée Giles’ first solo traversed a balance beam of light – fondu arabesques, turns, pivots, shifts of weight – all never leaving that illuminated line. Later groups of dancers traveled in and out of light squares that appeared, disappeared and reappeared around the perimeter of the stage. Thinking along the title of the piece, were these divides actual or projected? Mid-way through “Divide”, Brew created a gorgeous pas de deux that had one of the most stunning dance poses ever: Joel Brown extended his upper body sagittally to the ground and placed his right palm on the stage; Giles stood on the left wheel of his wheelchair and extended her leg in a classic modern dance tilt. This long second position was breathtaking.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hope Mohr Dance

ODC Theater, San Francisco
April 11th, 2014

Hope Mohr Dance marks their seventh San Francisco home season this weekend with a collection of premiere works. In association with ODC Theater, Mohr and her company presented a trio of new contemporary pieces, “Route 20”, “ridetherhythm” and a major collaborative endeavor, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”.

The first half of the program was all about the intersection of science and the performing arts. “Route 20”, a shorter piece danced by Jeremy Bannon-Neches, James Graham and Tegan
Hope Mohr Dance in "Route 20"
Photo: Margo Moritz
Schwab, spoke of natural processes. A melting ice sculpture hung just left of center dripping into a metal pan - processing live and in real-time. Mohr’s choreography followed that theme with a deep technical foundation, yet envisioned with her creative eye. The dancing was strong and clear; the narrative, angst-ridden almost to the point of desperation. All the pieces were there. Yet even still, something was missing in “Route 20”; something in the internal connective fibers of the dance.

“ridetherhythm” gave insight into the mind of the scientific genius. With lab coats, a whiteboard and repetitive spoken equations, the scientific process again took center stage. “ridetherhythm” was much more of a dance theater composition with ample text, song, scenework, and some, though not many, choreographic phrases. In any dance theater work, absurdity is a necessary component and “ridetherhythm” stepped up, from time to time resembling a manic psychotic episode.

For Act II, the musicians (Michael Coleman, Henry Hung, Tommy Folen, Gerald Patrick Korte) and the Hope Mohr company dancers took the stage for “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”. All the collaborating artists began warming up during the intermission, and the piece organically (and beautifully) evolved from the preparation phase directly into performance. The casual atmosphere remained for the majority of the work – the house lights up and performers scattered around the perimeter of the ODC Theater space. In the program notes, Mohr included a quote from Steve Paxton about intervals in music. And that is definitely what emerged from the stage. At the very basic definitional level, a musical interval is the distance between two notes. But that is only part of the story when it comes to musical intervals – the quality of each measurement (major, minor, perfect, augmented and diminished) providing the more interesting nuance. Mohr injected and worked these various conditions into “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”. The tritone (augmented 4th/diminished 5th) was reflected in the falling sequence. An inability to stay upright certainly spoke to this interval’s edgy, dissonant sound. The bright, cheery nature of the major intervals shone in the temps leveé in arabesque. And of course, nothing could represent the perfect intervals more than a classic turned out passé retiré. A truly collaborative event, the dancers and musicians played out a number of improvisational and chance games for the audience as part of the piece. That type of ‘in the moment’ experience is certainly exciting for the performers; adjusting to and being present amongst unexpected, changeable circumstances. But is it really that engaging for the audience? In my opinion, no. And while it is true that art shouldn’t be created solely to appease or please its audience, their engagement with the work definitely matters.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

San Francisco Ballet - Program 6

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 9, 2014

San Francisco Ballet’s current mixed repertory evening, Program 6, brings together work by three of today’s great ballet choreographers. Mark Morris’ “Maelstrom”, Helgi Tomasson’s “Caprice” and Yuri Possokhov’s “The Rite of Spring” share this exciting triple bill - yet another testament to the artistic breadth and scope of both the San Francisco Ballet creative team and the company dancers.

Right from the opening sequence, constant motion was the name of the game with Morris’ “Maelstrom”. Morris has a gift for combining music and movement, specifically in his ability to punctuate staccato and accented moments in the score. This thoughtful physical emphasis was sprinkled throughout the neo-classical work: hands in a ‘stop’ position, sparkly temps de cuisse, quick directional shifts and a recurring tilt in second position. A ballet for seven couples, last night’s cast featured some of my favorites from the women’s corps de ballet. A long-time corps dancer, Shannon Rugani is always a joy to watch; solid, skilled and completely in the moment. Ellen Rose Hummel’s unique combination of authenticity and artistic depth is simply endearing. And Julia Rowe is a sublime dancer (well-paired with soloist James Sofranko), one likely to ascend quickly through the ranks. Morris choreographed “Maelstrom” in 1994, and considering the age of many classical repertory ballets, twenty years is not that long ago. But, this particular work looks a little dated; still lovely, but dated. 

Program 6’s second offering is the world premiere of Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s “Caprice”. A shining work of neo-classical brilliance, “Caprice” had all the hallmarks of this popular ballet genre: close relationship between movement and music, classical vocabulary
Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham in Tomasson's "Caprice"
Photo ©Erik Tomasson
re-imagined with a contemporary eye, modern design elements, and speed. Framing the entire five movement work was a mobile set (by Alexander V. Nichols, with lighting design by Christopher Dennis). As each new chapter began, columns of light shifted into new and different configurations. The pas de quatre in the second movement was filled with delicate, yet mature partnering – melty and sinuous at the same time. Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham stole the show with their highly lyrical pas de deux – the pair soared and floated through Tomasson’s gorgeous choreography. Tan and Ingham were truly ethereal and angelic. The finale brought speed to the table, with a petit allegro variation for the male corps – complex batterie along with unison double and triple pirouettes.

After a phenomenal premiere last season, Yuri Possokhov’s “The Rite of Spring” returned to the War Memorial Opera House stage in the evening’s final performance. Possokhov’s version of this hundred-year-old ballet is extraordinary in every sense of the word. The story of community anguish hangs in the air throughout the entire forty minutes. And Possokhov wove this narrative through every aspect of the ballet – choreography, design, costumes, hair. Stravinsky’s music underscored a palpable sense of precarious circumstance and terror, like a spell was being cast on the group. Dores André gave another standout performance as the sacrifice. Caught and trapped in the mania around her, her movements spoke of imposed positioning and intense manipulation. In an interesting twist, Possokhov’s “The Rite of Spring” actually concludes with a glimmer of hope. In the final scene, there is a brief blackout. Then the lights come back up to find André’s character gone. Whether she had been saved or not, there is a sense of relief; her ordeal is finally over.