Standing In The Current
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco, CA
June 5, 2010
Art is subjective. Audiences need the opportunity to reach their own conclusions. Unfortunately, some choreographers over-educate their viewers. Program notes can be helpful; but sometimes, they are problematic. Those that fall into this latter category simply provide too much information and take away the audience's interpretive ability. Standing In The Current, a two-company collaboration at Dance Mission Theater, showed both sides of this coin. One group permitted a glimpse into their process without summarizing every aspect of the work. Sadly, the other gave everything away. Nothing was left up to the imagination.
"The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister" was a successful harmonization of story and structure. It placed characters and relationships into a Brontesque antiquity where period costumes, vintage books, an old-fashioned dress form and a weathered typewriter graced the stage. There was a palpable commitment to the narrative, though the movement never fell victim to the plot. The story existed as a framework within which the choreography's essence could be revealed. Perhaps the most fascinating element of the movement vocabulary was its unique take on control. Robin Anderson, Michael Estanich and Lucy Riner focused on the precarious dualism of this issue. There's was a study of balance versus non-balance and stillness versus frenzy. There were mini competitions in the piece to see who could sustain each movement quality the longest. Another motif found the dancers piling books into tall columns and then attempting to balance on top of them - a powerful comment about uncertainty. Had the focus been purposely directed into a complex narrative, these important movement explorations might have been missed.
Spinning Yarns Dance Collective's two part work, "Holding On and Letting Go" was very compelling: interesting choreography, well-rehearsed, and accurately performed. Part II (which for some reason was performed first on the program) opened with several groupings onstage: a soloist working through meditative repetitive movements; a contact improv-like duet focused on weight-sharing and a trio working with synchronization. These clearly represented the different ways of dealing with grief: some turn inward and prefer to be alone, others desire mutual support, and still another option may be shared experiences with other individuals. As the dance continued, these initial groups became less isolated, merging with each other and taking on the different movement qualities. Again, a clear showing of how we may (consciously or sub-consciously) seek numerous coping mechanisms. My main criticism of the work is that I had been told what I was supposed to be seeing by the artistic notes. And, after reading them, it was impossible to watch the piece from a neutral place. Susan Donham's choreography is good; it doesn't need such an in-depth written explanation. It can stand on its own.
A little ambiguity in dance goes a long way. Give us a chance to make the connections.