Monday, July 29, 2013

SKETCH 3: Expectations

Photos: David DeSilva
presented by Amy Seiwert’s Imagery 
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 25th, 2013

Good choreography leaves its audience asking questions. And the best choreography evokes questions for which there may not be any answers, instead sparking personal reflection, authentic conversation and spirited debate. Thursday night at ODC Theater was a great night of contemporary ballet. Amy Seiwert’s Imagery presented the third iteration of their SKETCH series -  Expectations – with new works by Seiwert, Val Caniparoli and Marc Brew. In Seiwert’s delightful opening remarks, she shared that the SKETCH is all about inviting established choreographers to create new ballets while working within their own identified risk or set of risks. And while there was no unifying theme other than that process, similar thoughts and observations kept coming up during the program. Was that situational? Was that on purpose? Again, these are the inquiries that emerge from great choreography.

Caniparoli’s “Triptych” was inspired by a photography collection – Lalage Snow’s “We Are The Not Dead”. Each photo set, a few of which appeared in the SKETCH program, shows three images of the same soldier – before, during and after deployment. The militaristic thread was woven throughout the ballet from the camouflage costumes to the recurring ‘standing at ease’ motif. Moving in and out of different lines and groups, the cast of eight painted a canvas both on the stage and in the air around them. Caniparoli injected instances of elegant simplicity (the beautiful side-by-side single arabesque turns) while also examining a complicated narrative. “Triptych’s” first movement was appropriately accompanied by a polyphonic score. This Baroque-style music dynamically interplays the importance of each voice and the mixing of all the lines together; independent and interdependent at the same moment. Because the piece was titled “Triptych”, it was easy to assume a three-part formal structure. But the work was really only two segments. Perhaps the absence of this third part was narratively-driven - the ‘after’ is still being lived out by these soldiers; still unfolding; still in process; still to come.

Four couples scattered about the stage in their own individual squares of light opening Marc Brew’s “Awkward Beauty”. As they cycled through a series of complicated sculptural lifts while smoke dissipated in the air, a searing anticipation built. Subsequently, the company retreated to the back wall, and began a hypnotic physical wave; changing the visual landscape from left to right, right to left, and back again. Throughout “Awkward Beauty”, Brew used this upstage wall for a home base of sorts, a place where dancers retreated to, where vignettes methodically unfurled. This living, breathing billboard revealed some of the most interesting pictures and images of the piece. But the ending moment was by far, the coolest and most memorable. A woman was lifted high in the air floating above her partner’s head. He then began to spin, slowly at first and then accelerating to whirling dervish speed. With this lift and turn, Brew created a human propeller center stage. In addition, “Awkward Beauty” provoked one of those ‘was that supposed to happen’ type of questions. The work had four women in its cast; three were in pointe shoes and one wasn’t - very curious.

SKETCH 3 closed with “The Devil Ties My Tongue”, perhaps the greatest choreographic work from Amy Seiwert thus far. “The Devil Ties My Tongue” takes the viewer inside a popular yet complicated trend: deconstructed narrative in contemporary ballet. To effectively and successfully work within this structure, a dance must communicate a dual identity. The choreography must have formal authority, merit for the movement in its own right. While at the same time, the piece is still loosely based in a concept, idea or image, in this case, Leonard Cohen’s poem “S.O.S.”. The shinbuster light effect established the drama right from the get-go, feeding into a gorgeous and intense pas de trois. Creating a trio is not easy, and this one was very well done, reminiscent of another great pas de trois: Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain” for the Joffrey Ballet. The intensity continued and mid-way through the piece, a compelling duet spoke of desire, longing and need. Creepy and eerie, the closing moments found a female dancer flailing about while one of the men whispered in her ear over and over again. In “The Devil Ties My Tongue”, again there was a mix of pointe and flat shoes for the women, but this time it was an equal division of two and two. Still the question arose, ‘was this intended’? If so, maybe Seiwert was making a comment on the role of fusion in dance. When it comes to fusion, the focus tends to be on mixing traditional and contemporary movement together in a single work. But in this case, Seiwert seems to be considering fusion within ballet itself; a mixing and melding of pointe work and non-pointe work.              

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