Monday, May 16, 2011

"Body Evidence"

Opiyo Okach & Gaara Project in
"Body Evidence" (Work-in-Progress)
YBCA Forum, San Francisco, CA
May 20, 2011

Year after year, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts continually distinguishes itself as a leading arts organization.  Aside from the 'big' venue performances, they have countless additional projects (including the "Encounter: Engaging the Social Context" series) that encourage the intersection of emerging artists, their work and the arts community.  Last weekend, this program welcomed Kenyan choreographer Opiyo Okach and his current work-in-progress, "Body Evidence" to the YBCA Forum.  Though steeped in significant and important narrative meaning, the brilliant A-B-A structure of the work demanded primary focus.

"Body Evidence" was divided into three sections.  The first was dancing only; the second, dance and the addition of two props (a mask and a flag); and the third, dance alongside multi-media.  This crescendo of theatrical tools worked extremely well.  By limiting the first segment to choreography, Okach established the importance of the movement.  Then, in each subsequent section, he added something to the dance, not replacing it, but embellishing and expanding on the physicality.  These were carefully crafted and successful performative building blocks because they were explored through the strong foundation of dance.     

Dynamically, the three vignettes followed a very clear A-B-A format.  The beginning and ending employed smooth, legato, serpentine movements, sandwiched around a staccato, abrupt, urgent middle portion.  The choreographic syntax also followed this A-B-A pattern.  The movement ideas from the opening returned in the end, and the in between space was filled with contrasting units of action: galloping, skipping, trenching and grapevining through the performance space.

The rondo form was also very present and smartly embedded within section number one.  As Okach cycled through dance born from his center core (the limbs responded only because of the initiation in the spine and torso), there were several 'home' or 'returned to' poses: a squat, a version of the downward facing dog, and an arm raised limply in the air.  Here was a physical concerto; solos combined with ritornellos, providing an extra helping of structural cohesiveness.  Opiyo Okach is a choreographer to watch - he is able to produce deeply narrative modern dance, clearly communicated by his considerable structural acumen.        

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