Sunday, November 11, 2012

ODC/Dance "unplugged"

ODC Dance Commons, San Francisco
November 9th, 2012

For any dance artist, the lecture-demonstration is a tricky format, presenting very different challenges than traditional performance.  And when looking at any group of lecture-demonstrations, the statistical bell curve is wholly present: some are good, some are bad and most fall somewhere in the middle.  This weekend’s ODC/Dance “unplugged” was one of the greats.  ODC/Dance’s Artistic Director and Founder Brenda Way provided a holistic look at her current project, “Life Saving Maneuvers”, from first concepts to early images to movement sequences, all culminating in a full-length performance of the dance.  Here was a genuine communication of choreographic practice, a commitment to community education and a tangible passion for artistic undertaking.  The hour-long event allowed the audience to witness “Life Saving Maneuvers” from two very connected perspectives: process and progress.

Photo: Steve Maller
A traditional lecture-demonstration filled the first twenty minutes. Way verbally shared her initial ideas for the work, and the dancers showed how those ideas manifested into physical images, textural characteristics and movement vocabulary.  We saw how the choreographic phrases were developed and built and how at times, the final results ended up as Way stated, “having nothing to do with the source”.  The most interesting take-away from this lecture-demonstration segment was how Way and the dancers really embrace the concept of letting go: releasing control of the piece, allowing it to take its own shape and conceive its own life. 

Then came a full run-through of “Life Saving Maneuvers”, a 35-40 minute composition set to premiere in March 2013.  This was not a snippet nor an excerpt of the material; not an appetizer nor an amuse-bouche.  Instead, we were watching a live experiment with a new recipe.  For the critic, these ‘previews’ or ‘works-in-progress’ are an invaluable device; a moment to simply experience the dance, without the pressure to jump right into analysis or get lost in the choreographic minutia.  Having said that, some observations obviously came to mind while watching the piece.  “Life Saving Maneuvers” had an strong, constant narrative of support, illustrated at so many different junctures: the men moving in unison, attached to each other in a train formation; the opening circuit where the women were hoisted on the men’s backs; the desperate, frightening, risky, and shocking ‘run, jump, fall and catch’ segment.  It was exciting to see ideas and movements from the lecture-demo present in the work and I also really enjoyed seeing new blood in the company, especially amongst the women.  I hope ODC/Dance continues to add this intoxicating, new energy to its roster.  My final thought as the lights dimmed was that I want to savor this artistic and choreographic recipe again, whether it has exactly the same ingredients or an infusion of new flavors.

Overall, “unplugged” was a rousing success: an evening of honest sharing, solid education and fantastic performance.  The only disappointing part of the night was the final discussion between the viewers, Way and the dancers, facilitated by ODC Theater Director Christy Bolingbroke.  Typically, a ‘talk back’ between the artists and the audience is preceded by a brief pause, even if just a few minutes.  During this time, those audience members who prefer to consider the work on their own and ponder its implications have the chance to leave and those who wish to participate in the interactive conversation can stay.  We were given no such opportunity and were kind of stuck in our seats.  Obviously, it was possible for anyone to leave at anytime but because of the studio setting, it would have been incredibly disrespectful, disruptive and frankly, just plain rude to get up and go in the middle of this dialogue.  While I applaud ODC for engaging everyone in the artistic process and completely understand the value that can be gained from such an exchange, the logistics of this final portion could have been handled better.

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