Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ODC/Dance - "Dance Downtown: A Force at 40"

Elizabeth Farotte Heenan and Corey Brady. Photo by RJ Muna

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
March 12, 2011

The significant milestone of forty years deserves celebration and ODC is doing it up right with a three weekend, three program engagement at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Novellus Theater in downtown San Francisco.  The opening bill brought together two world premieres ("Speaking Volumes: Architecture of Light II" and "I Look Vacantly at the Pacific...Though Regret") with 1999's "Investigating Grace". 

Much dance performance centers around the notion of forms in space, and Brenda Way's "Speaking Volumes: Architecture of Light II" examined this concept very literally, with a stunning gallery of moving shapes.  The piece began with a soloist and a narrative voice; the narrator providing choreographic instruction and the dancer interpreting the words through movement.  This opening was so intriguing, almost like notation was being brought to life in performance.  And, right from this unique beginning, Way's focus on geometrical shapes was very clear.  As the piece continued, the idea of form was fully explored by soloists and groups, with lighting and set design and through choreographic alteration - differing articulations (staccato and smooth); range of dynamics; and changes in speed (augmentation and diminution).  Unfortunately, about three quarters of the way through "Speaking Volumes: Architecture of Light II", the dance took a wrong turn, with an attempt at Pina Bausch-style dance-theater humor.  This section came of out of nowhere and had nothing to do with the rest of the piece.  It was gimmicky and just didn't fit.  The work had been so choreographically sound up until that point, which made these last portions even more disappointing.

I'm certainly not against humorous dances because Kimi Okada's "I Look Vacantly at the Pacific...Though Regret" was delightfully fantastic.  Her stunning characterization of differing language, customs and conventions gave a refreshing, funny and child-like interpretation of cultural misunderstanding.  "Investigating Grace", also choreographed by Artistic Director Brenda Way, combined ballet, modern, jazz, gestural and pedestrian movements in a study of elegance.  Every lush sequence spoke to the expansive and graceful possibilities that exist in the human body.  The greatest achievement of "Investigating Grace" was that Way was able to show this polish and refinement in moments of stillness, when rolling on the ground and even in the most frenetic choreographic sequences. 

The repertory choices for this fortieth anniversary celebration were a little surprising.  Of the seven pieces that will be performed during the month of March, three are world premieres, two were choreographed over the last five years and the last two were from the 1990s.  What about the company's earlier period?  It would have been both interesting and appropriate to see a more varied selection of works, truly reflecting ODC's four-decade history.  Aside from that, this evening was a testament to the accomplishments of this amazing group of artists.  Here's to the next forty years! 

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