Monday, April 30, 2012

Soul Project

Photo: Anja Hitzenberger
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents
David Zambrano - "Soul Project"
Yerba Buena Forum
April 27th, 2012

Post-modern conventions meet twenty-first century movement; chance methods meet 1970s decor; mobile performance meets a single gallery space; all while challenging accepted notions of dance/music yet still celebrating those entities.  Sounds like an impossible artistic prescription for a single evening's event.  Yet, David Zambrano and the six performers in "Soul Project" accomplished each of these goals, and they managed to do it all while making their performance fun, astonishing and completely accessible. 

"Soul Project" came to San Francisco as part of Yerba Buena's 'DARE: Innovations in Art, Action and Audience', and with its examination of artistic presumption, it was a perfect choice to conclude the program's 2011-2012 season.  A collection of solos set to soul music hits, Zambrano's piece unfolds in a large empty room, demarcated only by large pools of psychedelic light.  Each dance emerges organically in the space, without announcement.  And over eighty minutes, the audience moves about the room trying to catch the best view of whichever dance has come next - no directions leading to each sequence nor any warning that the next solo may start right next to you.  The audience is encouraged to stand, sit, dance - however they feel moved - as the seven performers go full out for each of their technically difficult variations.

Boundaries and lines were conquered and erased in "Soul Project"; making it a true experiment in egalitarianism.  With the set-up, the audience and the dancers became more of a singular group.  Instead of the separation that occurs in traditional stage/seating arrangements, the audience were active participants in the event, moving from area to area and mixing with the soloists.  This tested the accepted notions of what a performance entails, where and how it can occur, and succeeded in blurring the line between viewer and artist.  Because chance methods are used to determine the order of the solos at every performance, each viewing experience is unique, which makes another egalitarian statement: every solo is of equal importance.  

Choreographically, each vignette expressed a different movement style and genre, though a common denominator of torment was present throughout, bonding the solos together in cohesiveness.  The powerhouse "And I am Telling You, I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls" brought contemporary, modern choreography to light with an extended use of the torso alongside the notion of stillness; "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" journeyed to the seventies with pas de boure├ęs and jazz splits a plenty; "Night Life" incorporated yoga/acrobatics with an extensive opening head stand; and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" added a hip-hop essence - staccato isolations juxtaposed with a legato melody.  The most powerful sequence, for me at least, accompanied "At Last".  Working against typical expectations, here was a percussive expression of the sumptuous ballad.  Foot and body rhythms revealed a layering within the song, and provided a multi-dimension sense of abandon and desire. 

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