Sunday, August 12, 2012

ODC/Dance Summer Sampler

ODC Theater, San Francisco
August 11th, 2012

So many San Francisco/Bay Area dance companies have embraced new ways to share their work with the audience.  In addition to their ‘primary’ home seasons, many groups are now offering shorter mixed repertory collections in smaller more intimate settings.  This brings dancers, patrons and the choreography itself together in a very different, yet exciting way.  RAWdance has its ‘Concept Series’, Diablo Ballet invites us ‘Inside the Dancer’s Studio’ and ODC/Dance offers a ‘Summer Sampler’.  This year’s ‘Summer Sampler’ was not only a unique opportunity to see a major company off-season but also a chance to say goodbye to one of their long-time dancers, Daniel Santos.

Saturday’s program featured choreography spanning the past six years, with KT Nelson’s “Cut Out Guy” (2012) and Brenda Way’s “Unintended Consequences” (2008) and “Parts Of A Longer Story” (2006).  In the program notes, Nelson shared that “Cut Out Guy” was a tribute to school-aged competitive wrestlers.  She handily captured the complex array of skills and traits that is these phenomenal athletes.  The notions of balance, centeredness, agility, litheness and grace abounded through the dancing of Dennis Adams, Justin Andrews, Corey Brady, Daniel Santos and Jeremy Smith.  Looseness was illustrated by ‘shaking’ sequences, flexibility in the leg extensions and the strength, oh my, the feats of strength she created.  Adams picked up one of the other dancers on his shoulders and upper back, rising all the way from the floor to standing.  Another dancer balanced himself in the air by holding onto only the torso of a second dancer.  Nelson and these 5 men were totally ‘in the zone’ with this study of physical and mental ability.

I did like both the movement and the performances in “Unintended Consequences (A Meditation)” - especially Vanessa Thiessen’s opening variation and the final unison section - though the piece was really the weakest of the three.  Chunks of differing choreographic material had been put together in sequence but were lacking any transitional linkage.  Much of the dance seemed like it came out of nowhere and was artistically independent from and unrelated to what had just occurred.  Maybe that was Way’s intention with this work; a kind of absurdist take on juxtaposing unrelated movement.

Photo: Margo Moritz
It was well worth the wait to see Way’s “Part Of A Longer Story” as the ‘Summer Sampler’ finale.  ODC/Dance performed Parts I and II of this 2006 work and it was absolutely magical.  Set to Mozart’s gorgeous Clarinet Concerto in A Major, Way managed to create an interdependent relationship between the music and the movement,  each breathing life into the other.  I don’t use the word masterpiece very often, but “Parts Of A Longer Story” is a true masterpiece, one of those once-in-a-lifetime creations.  Genre-wise, the work is a fusion of traditional ballet and modern whimsy: attitude turns ending with a hand flourish, slow developpés culminating with a staccato flexed foot.   Part II, a long duet between Santos and Thiessen, was all about sustained regality.  Through the lushly beautiful, yet simple musical theme, promenades glided, hands floated and legs lengthened as far away from the body as was humanly possible.  Here was a true pas de deux, a dance of two, where the first half finds Santos and Thiessen dancing in the same space, yet separately.  And then, right before the final recapitulation of the theme, they come together for an even fuller understanding and statement of suspension.  Way has captured the perfect physical representation of the long appoggiatura, a non-chord note which sits in dissonance and then finally leans into its musical resolution.  Stunning.  This piece will live forever.  


Friday, August 10, 2012

"Dance and Acrobatics"

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® present
Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
August 8th, 2012

I have always made a clear and definite separation between dance and acrobatics.  Though I can concede that each genre uses aspects of the other from time to time, they just seem like very different entities to me.  However, I’m starting to re-think this demarcation a little bit.  With the combination of Olympic gymnastics coverage and my recent trip to the circus (Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® “DRAGONS”), the line that I have drawn in my head between dance and acrobatics is getting fuzzier and fuzzier.

Typical for a circus show, “DRAGONS” was broken into two halves, each comprised of six to eight short ‘acts’.  Some of these were traditional, old-school circus stand-bys: large cat exhibition, tight rope, clowns, etc.  And then there were the acrobatics: trapeze, human pyramids and aerial work.  It is with this last category that I began to reconsider my somewhat static opinions surrounding acrobatics and dance.  And this time, I noticed much more cross-over between the two than I had in the past.  One particular sequence really drove this idea home.  Performers were suspended high above the ground in clear, transparent orbs that were engineered to toggle between being closed and open.  This allowed for a range of movement from gymnastic backbends within the closed orb to more dance-y split jetés, separating the two hemispheres.  Throughout this dynamic scene, it was clear that all of the participants were doing both aerial dance and artistic acrobatics.  They used every part of their body to counter balance and create shapes in space, and moved flowingly from one pose to another with transitory awareness.  As I watched their routine, I became fascinated with a duality.  The movements were so similar to those used by San Francisco modern dance companies who specialize in aerial choreography.  But at the same time, this was clearly a circus act. 

In any event, this experience got me thinking more about the blurry and complex relationship between dance and acrobatics.  And in this case, external forces like intention, context, format, costuming and location determined the movement’s categorization.  If I had seen the exact same variation on the side of a wall in San Francisco, without a doubt, I would characterize it as aerial dance, but here at “DRAGONS”, I was definitely seeing circus acrobatics.  Interesting how outside factors have so much influence on perception.