Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Russell Maliphant Company

A Sadler’s Wells London Production
presented by San Francisco Performances
Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
October 14th, 2012

Russell Maliphant’s 2010 work, “AfterLight”, is a physical sonata of hypnotic visuals.  Within the exposition (a lengthy male solo), development (introduction of duos and trios) and recapitulation (the return to the single male dancer), fluidity reigned supreme. “AfterLight” is a stunning and complete exploration of how light and the manipulation of it becomes theatrically causal, affecting mood, movement and perception.  With last weekend’s engagement of the Russell Maliphant Company, San Francisco Performances has once again introduced an amazing single-choreographer led troupe to Bay Area audiences.

Thomasin Gülgeç’s opening solo was really quite something. The combination of light (designed by Michael Hulls) and Maliphant’s movement created such a strong and unusual visual effect, to the point where the light itself became an active performer.  Lit from an overhead spotlight, the choreography was centrifugal - twisting, turning, spiraling, unwinding - so much so that it looked like Gülgeç was positioned on a rotating disc.  Nijinsky-inspired arms were prevalent in the twenty-minute variation, reflected by his signature 5th position and moments where the arms wrapped around the head. Gülgeç captured fluidity and gracefulness throughout his whole solo whether walking, spinning or changing levels from standing to floorwork (which happened quite often).  He was absolutely exquisite in this role.  His back and spine are super flexible, perfectly matched with Maliphant’s choreography, though because of his upper body’s flexibility, his ribs were constantly popped to the point of hyper-extension.  This occasionally took away from an otherwise brilliant performance. 
Photo credit: Johan Persson

The two women in the cast (Silvina Cortés and Gemma Nixon) were introduced in the next section with a unison duet (which eventually morphed into a group sequence with all three performers, followed by a set of pas de deuxs).  This portion of “AfterLight” was performed behind a scrim with a scattered light pattern, giving a dream-like ambiance.  The choreography carried the same hypnotizing fluidity as was evident in Gülgeç’s solo, though the women had a slightly more difficult time maintaining the smooth, legato quality.  While most of the dance stayed at a uniform dynamic level, we did see a bit of change during this lengthy middle segment.  Cortés and Nixon broke into a set of frenetic chaîné turns, built a crescendo with punctuated, staccato motions and also executed some long leg extensions. 

“AfterLight’s” last scene took us back to the beginning of the work, as Gülgeç once again commanded the space.  Delicate flute music accompanied Maliphant’s choreography as the soloist moved in and out of the shadows.  In the final moments, Gülgeç took his place center stage, this time bathed in a strobe light effect and as the curtain fell, everything dissolved and disappeared together – the light, the mood and the dance.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Zhukov Dance Theatre

PRODUCT 05: Coin/c/dance
Z Space, San Francisco
September 27, 2012

In the past year or so, much of the modern dance I’ve seen in the San Francisco/Bay Area has had a large narrative component.  This is not a good thing or a bad thing; it is simply a common thread that I have witnessed.  So, it was a wonderful change of pace to attend a performance where narrative connotations certainly existed but formal considerations were given an esteemed place of prominence.  Zhukov Dance Theatre’s fifth home season at San Francisco’s Z Space accomplished this delicate balance with “Coin/c/dance”; a beautiful etude of choreographic experimentation.  Here, Artistic Director Yuri Zhukov (in collaboration with his company of seven dancers) examined, deconstructed and applied the ideas of randomness and circumstance to modern dance vocabulary.  And through the fascinating one-hour structural study, Zhukov showed how purposeful choice and random occurrence can shape, change and create choreographic dynamics. 

The beginning was a collection of full-company cluster sequences that explored every corner of the stage space.  Some ‘follow-the-leader’ style phrases emerged where one dancer initiated a movement that some or all of the others would then assume.  From the very start, Zhukov’s revelatory dynamic results were evident.  As the performers cycled through this initial introduction, differing speeds and styles of articulation took over, and a simple floor roll was suddenly part of a spectrum - varied characteristics and distinct features.  In the callisthenic-type motif that followed, a similar dynamism transpired.  When the jumpy, buoyant segment was carried out from beginning to end, it had a perky airiness, but when single movements from the phrase were isolated, they took on a slow, almost haunting quality. 

Photo: Sandy Lee
In addition, Zhukov experimented with the juxtaposition of stage design and choreographic dynamics.  The middle section of “Coin/c/dance” featured two men who oscillated between dancing and manning a rolling shin-buster - as one performed a solo variation, the other moved the light around the space.  The effect was stunning.  There were times when the placement of the light amplified a single arm swing, making it animalistic, aggressive and sexy.  Or, an upper body circular port de bras was transformed from demure to seductive.  It was almost as if Zhukov had created and envisioned a pas de trois between three performers – the two male soloists and the mobile light source itself.    

I do believe that the final fifteen minutes of “Coin/c/dance” was misplaced.  About three-quarters of the way through the piece, a very dramatic scene unfolded – every dancer was onstage, performing vibrant, diverse choreographic sequences, all ending in a sudden blackout.  I, and I would guess others in the audience, thought this was the thrilling finale, but surprisingly, there was more to come.  This group segment seemed a perfect and logical stopping point; gorgeous, well-timed and so, so strong.  In comparison, the material that followed was unfortunately, a bit of a let-down.  Perhaps a re-ordering of the dance might be something to consider.

The formal and structural nature of Zhukov Dance Theatre’s “Coin/c/dance” also evoked crucial theatrical and compositional questions.  Was the entire piece completely choreographed and planned out?  Were there some moments that truly happened by chance or by accident?  Were we seeing real-time reactions at play?  These questions are incredibly important in the modern dance scene.  So much so that I was tempted to go back and see “Coin/c/dance” again, compare the two viewings and determine if they were the same.  Kudos to Zhukov Dance Theatre for bringing the choreographic process back to the stages of San Francisco.