“AMP – Coasts Collide with LEVYdance and Sidra Bell Dance New York”
ODC Theater, San Francisco
November 15, 2012
As a critic, I hate characterizing any performance as ‘interesting’; it is such a blank statement. But, interesting is really the only word I have to describe “AMP”, a shared modern dance program between LEVYdance and Sidra Bell Dance New York. All of the dancers from both companies did a superb job; however, the choreography itself was a very mixed bag. Benjamin Levy presented two beautiful contemporary works which bookended two unsuccessful avant-garde pieces by Sidra Bell.
The program opened with a short pas de deux - “Falling After Too” (2003), choreography by Benjamin Levy and Darrin Michael Wright; piano composition and live accompaniment by Anthony Porter. Porter’s score for this work was very reminiscent of Debussy, which immediately brought to mind the nature of Impressionistic music. Debussy and his peers came on the scene as the Romantic era came to a close and the 20th Century composers were on the rise. In this short, ambiguous period, conventions and characteristics were porous, flexible and changing. Levy and Wright’s duet spoke to a similar fluidity. Were the dancers moving on their own or being manipulated by each other; were they making individual decisions or reacting to each other’s choices; was it a combination of all of these possibilities? “Falling After Too” was wonderfully and deliciously unclear.
I like dance theater just fine. It might not be my favorite genre, but when it is done well - à la Bausch, Goode and Forsythe - I completely appreciate it. Sidra Bell’s “less” (for LEVYdance) and “Nudity” (for her own company) were just not good dance theater. “less” featured a contorted, grotesque, tribal, animalistic movement vocabulary accompanied by a soundscape of amplified noise. Sequences of crawling and stalking were interspersed with command/obey segments in which one dancer yelled instructions at the others. Absurdity is a common theatrical tool in dance theater, yet, in good dance theater, the absurdity has a place, a reason and an intention. Here, we were witnessing absurdity for its own sake, which comes across as nothing but self-indulgent. The huge false eyelashes, futuristic make-up and blaring floorlights made “less” feel like an assault on the senses. One saving grace was that the movement style was certainly different for the LEVYdance performers and it is always good to see a company venture outside their comfort zone.
Following intermission, the dancers of Sidra Bell Dance New York took the stage in “Nudity”. The beginning of the piece felt like ‘more of the same’, except that this time the performers were costumed in black rather than the white from “less”. However, the dance did change and evolve differently. Though the physical language had similarities, snippets of ballet were infused throughout (changement, allongé, balloné, attitude turns, developpé à la second and 5th position of the feet). The ballet was a welcome addition, though Bell’s point (no pun intended) was that ballet is stifling; ballet is bad. This message was received loud and clear in the first three minutes so I’m not sure why the piece was so long. The most shocking part of “Nudity” were the two instances where the dancers ventured into the audience, whispering in people’s ears, clutching their faces, and touching their shoulders. Right now, notions of discomfort coupled with a desire to breakdown the boundaries between performer and viewer are super trendy in modern dance. But you can still examine these issues without having your dancers actually touch people. I witnessed audience members recoiling and getting angry due to the invasion of their personal space. To be fair, I must also admit that from the resounding chorus of bravos as the lights dimmed, at least half of the audience clearly loved Bell’s work. “less” and “Nudity” were not for me, but they obviously spoke deeply to others.
The last piece on “AMP’s” bill was Levy’s 2008 work, “Physics”. After close to an hour of the bizarre, I was overjoyed to see his choreography reclaim the stage. A quartet, this contemporary work explored points of contact, some familiar and conventional, others not: finger/chin, hand/clavicle, heel/lower back, arm/waist, palms, wrists. The piece questioned what is built from these initial physical meetings: what grows from them; what energy do they have; what affection may be present; what promises are contained; what possibilities exist and what resentment lies in wait. It was gorgeous.
Photo: David DeSilva
Last week, I complained about some logistical issues at another ODC Theater event. So I must also mention that in between Thursday night’s performance and the Q-and-A with the artists, audience members who weren’t wanting to participate were afforded a few minutes to depart. Much appreciated.