Saturday, February 08, 2014

"Ebb + Flow"

Mills College Dance Alumni Concert
Lisser Theater, Oakland
February 7th, 2014

On the first Friday of every February, the Mills College dance community (alumni, friends, family and current students) gather on campus for the annual Dance Alumni Concert. Aptly titled “Ebb + Flow”, this shared performance features a curated collection of work by Mills College Dance Department alums. 2014’s iteration brought six diverse compositions, choreographed by graduates from the past three decades.

First up was Garth Grimball’s “Casa Tomada”, which featured live guitar accompaniment by composer Brian Baumbusch and performance by Grimball and Deanna Bangs. A quiet work of post-modern choreography, contemporary sensibility and narrative framework, “Casa Tomada” had a lovely arc. First, a couple was calmly seated in an open wooden box structure. There was an overwhelming sense of assumed and accepted repetition; a statement of the usual, the constant, the norm. Next, complete and methodical articulation of the hands and feet were added to the picture. The dance continued its crescendo in both intensity and off-balancedness so that by the end, a clear message had emerged. Typicality was no longer enough. Sandra Scheuber’s “Blue” followed, a purposely humorous and melodramatic quartet about sadness and despair. While “Blue” provided a nice variety and contrast to the overall program, tying modern choreography so closely to popular music is tough to do, and the work did seem a little out of place.

Act I concluded with an excerpt from “Six Suites”, a terrific collaborative project, setting six different choreographic intentions to Bach’s music. This portion highlighted three sections – the first, an example of abstract expression; the second, narrative interpretation; the third, creative process. Amy Lewis began with a circular, flowing and vast solo that ate up the stage space. With its constant motion, Lewis was reflecting the equally continuous nature of much Baroque music. Very few internal moments of cadence and repose exist, and so, rest does not come until the very end. Sonsherée Giles’ second variation introduced a delicious narrative foundation. High relevé dancing juxtaposed against abrupt and violent falls spoke to a common desire: trying to keep it together and the reality of not being able to do so. Janet Das took the stage in the third segment of “Six Suites”, providing a glimpse into the creation and extraction of movement phrases. Das did not dance to the music, but rather in concert with it, accumulating interesting sets of movement motifs and physical circuits. Her hinge plié deserved particular commendation. “Six Suites” is successfully examining the marriage between different choreographic styles and Baroque scores. At some point, I hope to see the entire work.

Pictured: Megan Nicely
Photo: Yana Kraeva
Act II opened with Megan Nicely’s “Somatic Experiment #1: Scrunch”, a visceral, immersive and creepily spooky choreographic wonder. From its vocalization score (provided live by Jim Brashear) to its deconstructed set to its gritty, animalistic syntax, this piece is all dance theater. And though the narrative has an aura of mystery, “Somatic Experiment #1: Scrunch” appeared to be a physical expression of neurosis or insanity. Rebekah Brown’s “Boots” focused on the journey – individual pathways, personal experiences and navigating life, both from a collective and individual perspective. Well-danced and creatively organized, the only surprising element was the ending, which was both unexpected and maybe even a little abrupt. For the evening’s finale, Jalila Bell offered the world premiere of “D4L”, which was all about layers, evolution and accumulation. In a work that showcased the best technical performance of the evening, Bell was able to fuse hip hop, jazz, break-dance, modern, and traditional African dance into a unique hybrid. Each genre maintained its individual integrity while also working together to form a cohesive whole.   

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