Saturday, August 17, 2013


ODC Theater, San Francisco
August 16th, 2013

With five days of modern dance and performance in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, The Garage’s Summer Performance Festival (SPF) is back for its sixth year. Curator Joe Landini has selected eight groups - all previous participants in The Garage’s Resident Artist Workshop program - to take their work to a slightly larger venue, ODC Theater. Each artist or company performs twice during the event and last night’s 7:00 pm performance featured a trio of dancemakers: Gretchen Garnett & Dancers, Angela Mazziotta and Aura Fischbeck.

Gretchen Garnett’s world premiere of “Buitenlanders” was by far the highlight of the evening. Her choreography is wonderfully cohesive - a strong technical foundation, conceptual integrity, all injected with egalitarian post-modern influences. Garnett is not afraid to experiment with ideas that are outside-the-box, but understands that for contemporary choreographers, contemporary technique has to play a primary role. “Buitenlanders” opened with a large circle of light center stage and three dancers (Leah Curran, Rachael Elliott and LizAnne Roman) scattered around its perimeter. The trio ran in and out of this circle of light, desperate to make connections with each other. As this first image dissipated, some ‘follow the leader’ style motifs emerged; circling of the upper torso and a stunning side developpĂ© followed by an upper back curve. The theme of connection was imminent as the dancers worked to copy each other and take on another’s movement. One important element to the piece was the role played by the center of the stage. Even in the absence of the circular light pattern, the center held a characteristic of duality. There was clearly a desire to be in that space, but at the same time, there was trepidation and sometimes even fear to go there. “Buitenlanders” was full of these strong narrative comments: the divergence between the individual and the collective and a strange desire to conform yet remain unique at the same time. 

The next two pieces on Friday’s 7:00pm program fell into the category of dance theater. Dance theater is super trendy right now, with an abundance of practitioners creating ample work in this specific genre. With so much dance theater out there - some great, some so-so, some not so good – the recipe for success is becoming apparent. In order for dance theater to be successful, it has to reach a sweet spot of not being too absurd but also not too obvious. When a piece goes to either extreme, it just doesn’t work.

Angela Mazziotta is definitely on the right track with her newest dance theater piece, “We lay awake breathing grapes” (world premiere). A wine vat sat upstage right while a hanging vine was suspended downstage left. Soloist Whitney Stevenson, dressed in a red costume with a fur hat and trim, repeats the phrase, “I am a fox”. One at a time, she put grapes in her mouth and after each addition, repeated her line of text. It, of course, became increasingly difficult (and increasingly humorous for the audience), and the narrative thread of frustration crept slowly and fiercely into the dance. Stevenson finished with the grapes and began an interesting and complex choreographic variation. Then, at the end, the movement crescendoed, returning to the original notion of frustration. “We lay awake breathing grapes” was good and effective dance theater; the right amount of the bizarre, solid dancing, inventive choreography and a discernible narrative. The only missing link was during the middle solo dance section where the frustration element got a little bit lost. While it didn’t have to be at the same level throughout the entire work, some added presence in the middle of the piece would have been nice.

Unfortunately, the second dance theater work of the evening was not as successful as the first. Aura Fischbeck’s “Have we all melted yet?” (which premiered in March of this year) seeks to examine issues of cultural tradition and national identity. It did have some brilliant moments: an aggressively funny game of musical chairs, contact improvisation-style lifting phrases and a series of poses where the cast was manipulated and placed into particular positions. Inasmuch as those moments shone, the opening solo was both overly long and far too repetitive and the narrative of the entire work was way too on the nose.    

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