Castro Valley Center for the Arts
January 29, 2011
Today's choreography makes a lot more sense when it is paired with some historical understanding of form and content in American dance. And, looking backward definitely sheds some light on what we are now seeing in the twenty-first century. The modern dance giants (Graham, Humphrey, Weidman, etc.) were committed to their own defined, specific movement syllabus and created dances using that vocabulary. Though they had this set physical language, their pieces seemed to primarily revolve around the narrative, so much so that the structure (the choreography) became subservient to the story; more of a vehicle for the expression of their epic, high-level narrative. The second generation of modern dance choreographers (Sokolow, Maslow, Dudley, Tamiris, to name a few examples) saw the value of their predecessors work, yet their choreography sought a more equal treatment of form and content; a better merging of these two elements in performance so that the steps remained significant in their own right and could support more relatable stories without becoming lost within them. Then came the 1960s, and the post-modernists turned everything inside out, abandoning the narrative altogether and adopting the notion that dance should be valued for what it is – pure human movement, not saying anything or meaning anything, just existing. They also re-defined the assumptions of what type of movement could be dance, who could do it and where it could be viewed. They stripped away all the peripheral elements (especially the narrative thematic) and de-constructed dance to its physical essence. At the same time in the land of ballet, Balanchine was all over the form/content spectrum: linear story ballets, abstract expressions of music and instances of deconstructed narrative where an idea, concept or image served as the jumping off point for his movement vision.
One paragraph does not even scratch the surface of choreography's longstanding relationship with both story and structure, but it does provide some helpful insights that inform where we are now. And, every once in a while a dance program comes along that really speaks of this historical chronology. Company C Contemporary Ballet's Winter Program 2011 was just that – a stunning, multi-faceted visual journey through form and content, told through four pieces choreographed in the past fifteen years.
We begin in the land of the deconstructed narrative, where no linear story exists, and concepts, notions or ideas take center stage. Daniel Ezralow's “Pulse” had the dancers sliding in and out of the performance space in a wide second position, not just as a recurring motif, but overwhelmingly present throughout the entire work. Here Ezralow was demonstrating impermanence and lack of commitment – how today we leave a situation as quickly as we enter into it, and the difficulty we face in fully giving of ourselves; instead choosing to stay very much on the surface.
James Sewell's “Appalachia Waltz” was an ode to several different styles, including Graham, Balanchine, Mark Morris, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. This amalgamation really makes sense because the Appalachian region itself was and is a rich cultural compound. The costumes brought visions of Graham with the leotard-style, long-sleeved, full-length dresses; the poses evoked Balanchine's three muses (“Apollo”); the canon sequences brought Morris into the mixture; and the floorwork spoke of Arpino and Joffrey.
“Indoor Fireworks”, by Charles Anderson and Benjamin G. Bowman, opened with a 1960s scene; the entire cast channeling youth, joy, exuberance and society, and the piece definitely channeling Twyla Tharp's “Deuce Coupe” (although I would argue that “Indoor Fireworks” is maybe better than “Deuce Coupe”). Its purpose was not to fuse ballet and modern dance vocabulary together under the common force of youthful vitality; rather, it showed the passion, desperation and explosiveness (hence the title) of this generation. Of the nine sections, “Poisoned Rose” and “Baby Plays Around” particularly stood out. The former, a duet between Edilsa Armendariz and Robert Dekkers was a sexy, smooth stream of consciousness from beginning to end; seamless transitions with no stops or pauses. And Dekkers solo - “Baby Plays Around” - reminded us that a simplistic position can be so powerful. At several points, he stood on a high relevé in fourth - solid yet searching at the same time. “Blame it on Cain”, a trio for Kevin Hockenberry, David Van Ligon and Jeffrey Ware was the only segment that needed a bit more rehearsal. Their footwork was not well-synchronized and the spacing was off the entire time. They just didn't seem to be working together as one unit.
|Robert Dekkers of Company C Contemporary Ballet in the premiere of Charles Anderson and Benjamin Bowman's "Indoor Fireworks". Photo by David DeSilva|
I have purposely left “Ominous Rumblings of Discontent” (choreography by Maurice Causey) out of the discussion, because the piece itself was confused. Not confusing, but confused. There was too much happening (both formally and narratively) to possibly converge into a cohesive piece of this short length. I think one of two things would be helpful for this work and am not really sure which would be the better option. Either some serious editing needs to happen so that the focus is stronger and clearer, or the piece should be expanded into a full-length work, so that all the information and material can be spread out and presented more convincingly.