Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bebe Miller Company

“A History”
YBCA Forum
January 25th, 2013

Bebe Miller Company’s newest work, “A History”, began its 2013 tour with a two-night stop at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. An evening-length duet for long-time company members Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones, the piece is a perfect fit for YBCA’s Forum (a multi-use performance space), where experimental art and out-of-the-box thinking reign supreme. “A History” is like an in-person, real-life slide show; a physical catalog/chronology of memories. It is the story of an artistic family, with a specific focus on the individual journey and collective experience of these two dancers - a true celebration of and reflection on time. Miller’s work provides insight into the creative process, revealing collaborative relationships and pointing to the special inter-meshing of artistic sensibilities that comes with creating today’s modern dance and contemporary choreography.

Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Throughout the seventy-five minute piece, Miller effectively and successfully explored many different sides to a relationship and the associated emotions. In the first solos, we saw each dancer’s individual identity. Then, as Hauser and Jones shuffled around each other in a second position demi-plié, there was  hesitancy toward commitment. Comfort came as they wiped sweat from each other’s brows. Extreme trust as Jones gently lowered Hauser from a lift into a headstand. In the multiple spoken scenes, the two continually finished each other’s sentences, representing a deep knowing, intense understanding and shared intimacy. Not one to shy away from the darker corners of the psyche, Miller also communicated the less positive experiences that every relationship undergoes. In the middle of “A History”, both Jones and Hauser returned to dancing solo sections, indicating distance and separation. As well, one short unison segment was set with the two performers right next to each other, invading personal space. They were purposely cramped, squelched and uncomfortable, noting the awkwardness that can definitely inhabit and develop within any union. In the final pas de deuxs, a recapitulation occurred and we came once again to moments of maturity, reconciliation and tenderness. Here were two people becoming one, still having their individual identity but working together as a team; an unbreakably strong unit. While the slow-dancing scene at the end may not have been the most choreographically deep section, as Hauser and Jones moved in their common trajectory, pure sweetness exuded from the entire space.      

However, no matter how clear the narrative or how dynamic the performances, “A History” did have some structural and compositional issues. Interdisciplinary work is incredibly difficult. Combining elements in the service of the same narrative is anything but straightforward. Cohesiveness, interdependence, give and take, willingness to acknowledge the superfluous and courage to introduce newness must all be present. And, there must be balance. While “A History” gives a unique juxtaposition of dance, video and the spoken word, the balance between the three elements was problematic.

The piece started like gangbusters, with two amazing solos, first Jones and then Hauser followed. Right out of the gate, we were treated to a healthy portion of Miller’s unique serpentine physical vocabulary. But from that point forward, the live movement took a very obvious backseat to the other theatrical elements. Miller’s choreography was wonderful and Hauser and Jones’ ‘in person’ performance of it unmatched by any of the videos (some of which featured them in filmed dance and choreographic sequences). Admittedly, I must disclose that this observation also partly reflects a personal bias. I am not a fan of dance for film. It comes across as over produced and a little bit fake, especially when the possibility for live performance is right there. The combination of video interjections, textual scenes and phrasal captions kind of took over “A History” and did so at the expense of Miller’s stunning choreography. I’m not saying that the interdisciplinary elements should be eliminated, nor should the stage time of each be measured out like an exact science, but a better balance between the choreography, videography and scenework was and is necessary so that all three can shine.

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