Saturday, October 09, 2010

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

Photo by Bonnie Kamin
Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, San Francisco, CA
October 7, 2010

The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's presentation at the SFJCC was a delight: creative and engaging choreography coupled with exceptionally skilled dancers.  I always find their performances exciting and enjoyable.  Though, I have to admit that the group's repertory breadth is not particularly impressive; in fact, most of Jenkins' dances (at least the five I have seen in the past four years) look very much the same.  She is drawn to an identifiable movement style, a certain type of music (abstract, non-phrasal, repetitive, monotonous stream of notes) and a specific costume theme (one color palette with slight variations in design and construction).  The program opened with "Other Suns I" (2009), a piece that had all of these elements, definitely in the style of Margaret Jenkins.  But after intermission, some things were different.  The preview of her new work, "Light Moves" still had the predictable music and costumes, but the choreography was a departure from the expected.  This work-in-progress indicated that this company's repertory may be heading in a new direction; embarking on a new journey.  

It was obvious from the opening moments of "Light Moves" that its movement vocabulary was divergent from Jenkins' usual fluidity.  Here we saw exaggerated bent arms, sustained broken wrists, and plié passé turns with intensely flexed feet.  These angular poses led to unusual shapes in the space, with the light, and against the backdrop.  Each of these positions was also afforded the gift of time; they were held and suspended so that the full dynamism of the forms could be realized. 

Another crucial difference in "Light Moves" was its casting and distribution of parts - finally we got to see Steffany Ferroni as the featured dancer.  Ferroni and Emily Hite (though Hite was not dancing in this piece) are the hidden treasures of this company.  Frankly, their physical and theatrical talent is superior but for some reason they are relegated to the background instead of being up front where they belong.  The other women seem to only ever play one-dimension of being - angsty seriousness.  So much so that it takes over their faces and their bodies to the point that the choreography ends up wallowing in anxiety.  Breadth needs to be present in all aspects dance, including the dancer's ability to portray more than one emotion and the director's ability to extract this from them.  I get that we need the angst, but a little joy doesn't hurt either.  Ferroni is such a breath of fresh air.  In "Light Moves", she demonstrated depth and abandon combined with passion, rapture and a distinct classicism.  She can conjure and harness it all.  Her two rélévé longs (where the straight leg is lifted slowly from a closed position on the ground into a high extension) were exquisite.  This step is a perfectly matched metaphor for this dance; a movement that focuses on clear positioning along with intense, non-stop energy.         

The brief glimpse into this work-in-progress indicated a positive deviation from a signature style.  Everyone knows Margaret Jenkins can do continuous flows of movement, "Light Moves" shows that she is equally gifted with detached, staccato physicality.  If "Light Moves" continues along its current path, the premiere next year will be a significant moment for The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company.

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