Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Night Falls"

Photo by Liz Payne
Written and Co-Directed by Julie Hébert
Choreographed and Co-Directed by Deborah Slater
ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA
October 21, 2011

Dance theater combines story and movement together in a theatrical expression.  Dance used in this field exists on a spectrum, ranging from codified modern and ballet vocabulary all the way to very minimal physicality.  While a very broad genre, all dance theater shares two requirements: integration and necessity.  First, the story and movement must make sense and work together.  And second, each entity must make unique contributions and have its own reason for being.  This delicate balance is incredibly difficult to accomplish.  "Night Falls", the new work by Julie Hébert and Deborah Slater, brilliantly captured the first goal - the movement and the narrative were definitely a cohesive unit used in combination to express the text.  The choreography was a gestural interpretation of the words, serving an emphatic purpose.  However, with respect to necessity, "Night Falls" missed the boat.  The miming actions worked as emphasis and were well-integrated into the piece, but they lacked their own distinctive purpose.  Unfortunately, the choreography came off as a mere accompaniment. 

"Night Falls" was a merging of memory, fantasy and self as a woman (Peregrine, played by Joan Schirle) deals with the reality of her sixtieth birthday.  As told through the intersection of her different-aged selves, we come to understand her fears: of getting older; of being vulnerable; of being humiliated; of being alone.  By referring to her various life experiences, the younger and older versions expose Peregrine's inability to be wrong, to follow through, and to ask for help.  "Night Falls" is a true coming of age story with significant depth and relatability.

As stated, the choreography served the text by creating an obvious physical embodiment of the spoken word.  For example, when the actors told of rain or stars, the hands went overhead and fingers moved in a typing motion.  As the story called for expressions of defiance, feet were stomped, arms thrown and fingers pointed.  Scattered discombobulation was indicated with frenetic shaking.  While very clear, the movement just wasn't needed to propel things forward.  In fact, I found the use of gestures to be distracting at times.  Hébert and Slater's story is great and the acting was phenomenal on Friday  - "Night Falls" can stand on its own.  Less really does say more.  I think this works more as a play than a dance theater piece; check it out and see what you think.    

Thursday, October 20, 2011

RAWdance at Orson

Photo by Dudley Flores
"a public affair"
Orson Restaurant Bar & Lounge, San Francisco
October 19, 2011

The modern dance world has always been a little ahead of its time, leading the creativity charge with outside-the-box thinking.  Today's choreographers continue that pioneering artistic spirit with an influx of site-specific, alternative event performances.  Though an exciting trend, it is always a risk - some pieces seem to thrive in multiple different environments while others simply do not do well outside of the proscenium arch.  Last night, San Francisco dance lovers enjoyed site-specific experimental work done brilliantly; adapted to its chosen setting without losing any physicality.  RAWdance's premiere of "a public affair" at Orson Restaurant Bar & Lounge in SOMA was visionary dance at its best.

Choreographed and performed by the dynamic Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith, "a public affair" emerged organically in Orson's dining room.  The two began their ballet as patrons sitting down to eat at the center table.  Even with some space constraints, this was an 'all-in' choreographic experience, with phenomenal extensions to the front and back and long attitudes à la second.  The pas de deux included dramatic overhead lifts that were not at all hampered by the fact that dinner patrons were watching from inches away.  Moments of eating were interspersed throughout the ten minutes, which kept the piece linked to and rooted in the space.  Rein and Smith were not trying to forget or ignore that this performance was in a restaurant, in fact, as the dance progressed, one couldn't help but notice that "a public affair" was really a dinner conversation brought to life through movement.

Near the beginning, Rein and Smith took turns covering each other's faces with the dinner napkins - obviously interrupting and cutting each other off.  What followed was a stunning combination of argumentative staccato sequences juxtaposed with quiet movements, mimicking the disagreements and silences that occur in any dialogue.   Next, tender moments brought visions of love, affection and support: the standing lift, the leaning arabesque and the supported sobresaut.  "a public affair" was definitely a partnered pas de deux, though there were also instances where Rein and Smith ventured out on their own; still spatially relating to each other but clearly separate.  This reflected those parts of a conversation where you may appear to be listening but in actuality, are lost in your own thoughts.  The piece concluded with the dancers returning to their original starting position, further reiterating that every physical expression we had just seen was an embodiment of how they had spoke to each other over a meal.

If you have the opportunity to see RAWdance, take it - they have well-crafted, unique choreography, an excellent sense of humor and technically superior dancers.