Sunday, October 17, 2010

MamaLOVE: Seeds of Winter - Dandelion Dancetheater

Photo by Luiza Silva
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley, CA
October 16, 2010

Though Paul Taylor is now considered a force in modern dance, the beginning of his choreographic career was a little precarious.  Accounts of his early concerts during the 1950s indicate that the dance community wasn't always so convinced of his brilliance.  Even the critics didn't know what to make of him, so some, like Louis Horst, said nothing.  Now one of the two most notorious dance articles (the other being Arlene Croce's ridiculous non-review of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, "Discussing the Undiscussable"), Horst published a blank review of Taylor's work in the "Dance Observer".  Saying nothing certainly says a lot.

This is how I often feel about dance theater.  I'm pretty sure that something significant is happening onstage, but at the same time, I struggle to determine what that something is.  So, I completely understand the urge to say nothing at all.  Thankfully, there are companies like Dandelion Dancetheater that are attempting to make a clearer and more accessible dance theater.  And, especially in the face of economic cuts for the arts, connection with the audience matters!

The prelude to Dandelion Dancetheater's "MamaLOVE: Seeds of Winter" employed three musings on the concept of motherhood by guest choreographers Dana Lawton, Chingchi Yu and Tammy Cheney.  Lawton's "Mixed Blessings" explored the ideas of sameness and difference.  Against a soundtrack of sonogram sounds and children's songs, slow ritualistic movements were performed in unison indicating the shared experience of mothers.  In contrast, the five dancers also interspersed moments of differing choreography, speaking to the isolation that mothers can feel even when surrounded by others in their same situation.  "Kiss", a duet by Chingchi Yu, symbolized the concept of mother and child, their relationship to each other (the good and the bad) and the personality of each role.  The third excerpt, Tammy Cheney's "Necessary", ruminated on a frenetic, rushed sense of being, danced beautifully by Rebecca Johnson.  Yet, in the face of all the anxiety and hurriedness came very calculated movements placed perfectly in space.  The scope of each step was completely defined, having an obvious beginning and ending point - a moving comment on the carefulness that a mother must employ in the face of chaos.

After intermission, it was onto the main event, "MamaLOVE: Seeds of Winter".  The opening scene was typical dance theater fare with the performers lying in a mish-mashed huddle and the perimeter of the stage space marked with cornucopia, a shoe, a lamp, a pot and a box of cereal.  Then, through song, text, and dance, the artists of Dandelion Dancetheater (women of all ages) examined what we are told about motherhood, how we feel about motherhood, and what is involved in being a mother.  These immensely vast questions trickled down into a pool of feelings: nurture, discipline, frustration, the fear of doing something wrong, of failing, of letting go.  There were some humorous moments including a medical lecture from an "R.N." and a discussion of breast feeding as well as some incredibly disturbing images: an overly graphic birthing scene and a super violent interaction between a 'mother' character and a 'monster' character.  Unlike much dance theater, the purpose of this piece was very clear: to decipher the complexity that is motherhood.  But, in pursuit of that goal, the ensemble has accumulated too many ideas and too much material, leading to a work that tended toward choppiness.  "MamaLOVE" is a valuable piece and when watching it, you can see the research, time, energy and analysis that these women have put into discovering what motherhood is, but some editing would be a good next step.

In the performance arena, dance theater is equated with the experimental; the obtuse; the bizarre; the avant-garde.  Anyone who says different simply isn't paying attention.  And, this tendency toward weirdness is absolutely fine.  However, combining a little less strangeness with a little more straightforwardness doesn't hurt.  As is evident with Dandelion Dancetheater, dialing the odd down a notch, while dialing the conventional up a bit equals dance theater that conveys its chosen message. 

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