Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange"

Photo of John Kloss by Andy Mogg.
Stepology presents
"The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange"
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA
August 19, 2011

The true test of an annual show is in its ability to preserve tradition while at the same time being able to produce something distinct, especially when many of the performers are the same each year.  Stepology's 2011 presentation of "The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange" celebrated the talent, diversity and energy of percussive dance with a plethora of style, interpretation and approach.  Though this event happens yearly in the Bay Area, the 2011 edition was unique and fabulous.

The headliners gave fantastic solo performances: John Kloss' taps were incredibly clear and his toe-heel combinations were super-human; Mark Mendonca is not only an amazing dancer, but also has the most easy, laid-back rapport with his audience.  For me, the stand-out performer was Sam Weber.  His upright, balletic style (almost like Merce Cunningham in tap shoes) differentiated him from the rest of the group, with tap sounds that had a much wider variance and dynamic spectrum.  Everyone else favored and tended toward the harsher, louder 'down' into the floor choreography and so, most of their solo work seemed very much the same.  Weber's approach allows him more freedom and increased versatility and as a result, his solos had intricacies that no one else could top.  

Compared to last year's production, the floor mikes were hugely improved this time around; they picked up all the highs and lows of the choreography and movement, which for tap, is imperative.  Having said that, I still find it strange that Stepology chooses this particular venue for its annual showcase.  The Herbst Theatre is beautiful but the pitch of the seats does not provide a good viewing angle of the dancer's feet.  Rhythm tap is just as much of a visual artform as it is audio and if you cannot see the feet, much of the performance is lost.  The audience size was certainly a disappointment on Friday night.  At the 2010 "Bay Area Rhythm Exchange", the house was completely packed and full of anticipation, excitement and awe.  This year, the Herbst Theatre was less than half full - quite a let down for such an exhilarating performance.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

"Terrain Project Performance"

The New Ground Theatre Dance Company
an Arts Unity Movement Production
Notre Dame De Namur University Theater, Belmont, CA
August 6, 2011

The New Ground Theatre Dance Company's "Terrain Project Performance" demonstrated a skillful use of narrative mechanisms.  A triptych work, "Terrain Project Performance" unfolded as follows:  first, a woman's medical crisis; second, the explanation of how she arrived in that situation; what her life has looked like up until that moment and what circumstances have contributed to her current existence; and third, her heroic and freeing choice that creates a new life.  Artistic Director Coleen Lorenz has produced a dance theater piece that reveals how women can empower themselves to both own and determine their reality and future.

The opening scene revealed the five main characters at the beginning of their day, each going through their individual routines to ready themselves for what may lie ahead.  Here we saw stylized choreography (not a post-modern pedestrian expression of daily activities) and one could see the adjectives of each character through their movements: frustration, excitement, complacency and fear.  Though a small portion of "Terrain Project Performance", this introductory scene was imperative - it set up who the major players were and the emotions that they carried inside of them. 

Interspersed throughout the dance were video sequences of women's faces (primarily the eyes) and audio clips of them speaking.  Projected onto the back scrim, these images spoke to Lorenz's goal: to provide a glimpse and insight into another's experience, understanding and condition.  

The group sections were good and the dancers at Notre Dame De Namur University are receiving excellent and varied training (many of the cast are alumni or current students).  In fact, these dancers are in better stead than students from some of the big university dance programs - they are being given a comprehensive approach to movement, where all styles have equal importance: ballet, jazz, modern, partnering and contact improvisation.  This is an incredible accomplishment for this department.  Having said that, all university dance programs have a similar issue that has to be acknowledged, and that is the wide variance in technical level.  This does not always present a problem unless the choreography in question contains quite a bit of unison work as "Terrain Project Performance" did.  When placed in unison, the technical differences between the dancers becomes overly emphasized and therefore can look a little messy (legs at different heights, jumps of different clarity, etc.).  Steering away from unison is a better plan.