Monday, July 18, 2022

SKETCH 12: Dear Diary

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery

Amy Seiwert's Imagery in 
Seiwert's Tides
Photo David DeSilva

SKETCH 12: Dear Diary
The Cowell Theater, San Francisco

July 15th, 2022 – San Francisco ushered in a recent July weekend with true summer Friday vibes at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. It was sunny and (somewhat) warm, food trucks graced the ample parking lot, the community was in full celebration mode, there was even a pup pageant underway. And just a short walk down the pier, an evening of eloquent dance was about to unfold on The Cowell Theater stage. Amy Seiwert’s Imagery opened the 12th edition of their SKETCH program, a choreographic incubator designed to push dancemakers and artists out of their comfort zone – encouraging them to experiment and work in new ways. Each SKETCH is thematically driven and derived, and as Artistic Director Amy Seiwert shared with the audience, this year’s theme was nostalgia. The program boasted three innovative premieres, each by a different choreographer and each danced by the eight Imagery company artists. Ahead of each piece, the choreographers provided a video introduction, both framing their work and inviting the viewer to learn a bit about their process.

First up was Seiwert’s Tides, a contemporary ballet which Seiwert noted, looked back at her choreographic career. From the instant the lights went up, an inextricable link to water was clear, as the title suggests. The opening moments found six dancers, clad in balayage sea-blue singlets (costumes by Susan Roemer), forming and re-forming various sculptural pictures and shapes. Ebbing and flowing as a tide or wave hitting sand. As the remaining two dancers joined the scene and the piece continued, movements became even more aquatic. Hands rippled through space; arms swam. Spins swirled like water being evacuated; traditional ballet fish dives took on new meaning. And just like the ocean, the movement never stopped, entrances and exits happened with such purpose, mirroring the urgency of the musical score. 

Amy Seiwert's Imagery in
Adorlee's Liminal Space
Photo David DeSilva
In her video prelude, choreographer Natasha Adorlee explained the deeply personal remembrance at the heart of Liminal Space – the loss of her father when she was a child. Tones, atmosphere and mood purposely varied throughout, as Adorlee illustrated the journey of grief as well as looking at how the passage of time affects loss. The contemporary ensemble work unfolded in a series of connected scenes, though they didn’t necessarily feel chronological. Some had tones of comfort and embrace, while others spoke of grace and levity. Scenes happened in unison as well as flowing in multiple different timings. There were images of sadness and searching, forgetting and the ephemeral. Moments of somber spirituality had a decisively religious tone. Angular, robotic motions countered fluid, stretchy sequences. Vocalizations and text came into the mix as did percussive footwork phrases. The work was filled with so many different layers, textures and qualities. From one minute to the next, you didn’t know what was going to happen or how you might feel. An apt reflection of grief to be sure.  

Amy Seiwert's Imagery in
Peugh's Kink
Photo David DeSilva


Joshua L. Peugh’s Kink took the closing spot on the SKETCH program, and it was certainly my favorite piece on the bill. It was fun. It was energetic. It was vibrant. It had both narrative and formal considerations. And it ended with some country line dancing that had me dancing in my seat. During his intro, Peugh outlined how thinking about nostalgia led him two different places: the exploration of country music through a queer lens and the re-visiting of traditional ballet syntax. Narratively, Kink was a triumph. From the opening social dance sequence, where pairings shifted and changed, to the many male pas de deux - duets that were simultaneously romantic, sensual and full of joy. But Kink’s formal/structural accomplishments were equally impressive. Textbook petit allegro phrases would converse with more contemporary movements. Batterie and grand pliĆ©s in 5th met with off-center postures and parallel shapes. Seeing Kink’s dialogue of classical and current brought Twyla Tharp’s 1973 masterwork Deuce Coupe to mind.

I have long been a fan of the Imagery SKETCH series and its philosophy – creating a safe space for artists to investigate, observe and traverse new artistic pathways. The resulting choreography is always interesting and Dear Diary was no exception. But as the program went on Friday night, a question of viewership arose. The video intros told the viewer what the coming dance was about and what the intention was. Some audience members may love that; but it’s not for me. It felt a little like starting a novel, skipping hundreds of pages and then jumping to the end to see how things turned out. And I can’t help but wonder if I would have viewed the works in the same way without that information.  


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Deborah Slater Dance Theater

Pictured: Sarah Lisette Chiesa
Video still: Jacob Marks
Deborah Slater Dance Theater
In the Presence of Absence
Livestreamed April 8, 2022

Absence and presence. In my mind, complete opposite states of being. Though after Deborah Slater Dance Theater’s (DSDT) recent showing, I might reconsider that stance. Perhaps the relationship between the two is more complex, richer, maybe even wonderfully murky. 

Last weekend, DSDT invited audiences back to their theater/studio space in San Francisco to witness an early works-in-progress edition of In the Presence of Absence, a collaboration between Artistic Director Deborah Slater and performer Tammy Johnson. Derived from interviews undertaken about these past two pandemic years, as well as company members’ personal journeys, the set of solos (and one group work) embodies the vast range of experiences that this unprecedented time has birthed. How folks have felt absence, how they have felt presence and how the two may have unexpectedly intersected. Original text and spoken word from Youth Speaks added a powerful layer of voicing to the various movement episodes.

The evening’s early solos, in which the dancers performed both movement and the text, were imbued with themes of reaching, pivoting, shifting and changing directions. Certainly fitting narratives for this time! The movement/word connection still needs to coalesce (not surprising for a work-in-progress), and it will be fascinating to see how those theatrical devices gel and morph over time. Movement-wise, the phrase material had an undeniable 90s quality: lots of backward somersaults, static attitude holds, Graham airplane turns and a slight improv-like esthetic. Later solos featured a recorded text, so the movement felt much freer and more open, except for one piece that was very hard to see because of the incredibly dark lighting. 

One of the most significant things about In the Presence of Absence is that it was truly a hybrid performance, with shows happening live and in person on both Friday and Saturday, and a livestream option available of opening night. Friday’s online offering happened in real time, as opposed to a taped version after the fact. And it went off without a hitch. The tech was without flaw, it wasn’t at all shaky, never cut out and the volume was right on point. This was a real triumph for DSDT. While many companies have been able to accomplish this hybrid format since March of 2020, it’s of note that others have not managed to pivot and shift in this way, including larger companies and presenters who have more resources and greater technical capabilities. 

Having said that, the night was far too late in starting. By the time the introductory remarks were completed, it was nearing twenty-five minutes from the appointed start time. Not an entirely uncommon occurrence, but a real pet peeve for many, including me.