ODC Theater, San Francisco
May 4th, 2013
This past weekend, Hope Mohr Dance brought its sixth home season to the ODC Theater in the Mission District of San Francisco. The evening was comprised of two works, one by Mohr (the premiere of “Failure of the Sign is the Sign”) and one by Hope Mohr Bridge Project guest Susan Rethorst (West Coast premiere of “Behold Bold Sam Dog”). This program demonstrates Mohr’s commitment to challenge the traditions and norms of modern dance through her own work and the work of other artists. And make no mistake, modern dance certainly has its share of customs and conventions that are in desperate need of some questioning from time to time.
I wanted to love “Failure of the Sign is the Sign” because as a rule, I really enjoy Mohr’s work. Unfortunately, it was just not a strong piece. So many theatrical tools and disciplinary genres (too many, in fact) were present and the cohesive thread that was needed to bind these elements together was missing. The forty-minute work was an interdisciplinary mash-up of dance, music, text, sculptural set design, props, body percussion, and vocalization. Somewhere amid all the external stimuli, the message and point got lost. One saving grace was Mohr’s brilliant choreography, which we finally got a glimpse of toward the end of “Failure of the Sign is the Sign”. The main choreographic sequence for all five dancers (Jeremy Bannon-Neches, James Graham, Katharine Hawthorne, Roche Janken, David Schleiffers and Tegan Schwab) took “Failure of the Sign is the Sign” out of its minutiae and into vitality. Buoyant jumps and unexpected groupings demonstrated that this is what Mohr does best: creative, dynamic modern dance movement.
The second half of the program brought a re-staging of Susan Rethorst’s 2001 composition, “Behold Bold Sam Dog”. Such an amazing work – an important reminder that modern dance doesn’t have to be all angst and turmoil. “Behold Bold Sam Dog” proves that contemporary choreography can be technically rigorous, yet still wacky, fun and wildly entertaining. Organized in a pseudo-concerto form, “Behold Bold Sam Dog” oscillated between featured sections (solos, duets and trios) and ritornellos (larger groupings of the cast). The dance also toggled back and forth from unaccompanied variations to those scored by music, primarily Shostakovich, with a little Beatles peppered in at the end. Variety in music was met by a wonderful variety of movement: suspension and fall; contraction and release; flexion and extension. One solo section - appearing in the middle of the piece and then returning to close “Behold Bold Sam Dog” -deserves special mention for its multi-layered genius. A dancer moved about the space, changing direction in a low and slow modern-jazz run. She looked like she was jumping over puddles – it was whimsical, musical, simplistic, and completely hypnotizing.