Friday, April 04, 2014

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

presented by
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
April 3rd, 2014
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in "Times Bones"
Photo: Margo Moritz

2013-2014 has been a celebratory season in Bay Area dance with many companies marking important and historic milestones. Margaret Jenkins Dance Company is certainly one of them; commemorating forty years of contemporary choreography and performance. That kind of artistic longevity is really something and it demands serious and significant recognition. The festivities began with a weekend of performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts - the West Coast premiere of 2013’s “Times Bones” and the world premiere of “The Gate of Winds”, a collaboration between Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and Kolben Dance Company.

Structurally, Jenkins’ “Times Bones” is made up of two components: a prelude (which took place in the YBCA Forum space) and the body of the work (which unfolded in the main theater). So to some extent, “Times Bones” was a mobile dance, with the dancers and audience moving from one location to another during the performance. The prelude section was absolutely gorgeous. As the company gathered at one point of a cross-like floor structure, Jenkins sat at the other end, speaking through the company’s history. An audio archive of the past four decades was shared – lists of pieces, participants, collaborators. And the dancers accompanied the text with snippets and excerpts of the referenced work. Jenkins’ remembrance did not occur in chronological or linear order; rather it was an interdependent cluster of time and events. “Times Bones’” opening sequence was an ode to the life work of this Bay Area modern dance pioneer; a visual encyclopedia; a physical autobiography. Ever changing, ever evolving, ever authentic.

As compelling as the prelude was, the main portion of “Times Bones” had some issues. Mobile performance can definitely work, but in this case, moving the entire audience from one space to another broke the cohesiveness of the piece. And it was very difficult to re-connect with the performance in the second space. The remainder of “Times Bones” was a lengthy stream of consciousness, primarily introspective, controlled and almost meditative in its nature. For the most part, the dynamics stayed the same, though from time to time, the choreography varied and crescendoed (including an interesting pseudo-jazz, hip hop phrase). Jenkins’ signature group architecture made for some beautiful cluster designs and the dancers really gave the entire work their all. But at a total of more than ninety minutes, this dance was just too long.

Collaboration in live performance brings with it a host of challenges and opportunities. And making a dance with two different companies (in this case, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and Kolben Dance Company) is particularly unique. Keeping the special-ness of each group is important, yet there is a necessity to move forward together - to learn, grow and stretch boundaries. “The Gate of Winds”, a new collaboration choreographed and directed by Margaret Jenkins and Amir Kolben, got everything right. “The Gate of Winds” is a choreographic dissertation on motion. Whether pedestrian or stylized; unison or solo; allegro or lento; loud or quiet; aggressive or graceful, every type of motion was thoroughly tested and explored. Movement was almost constant onstage, in fact, there were very few instances of stillness in the forty-minute work. A percussive sequence mid-way through the dance deserves a special mention; a collection of phrases where feet, hands, vocals and breath took on a dual purpose: as a living score and the choreography at the same time. And “The Gate of Winds” perpetual motion continued right up until the end. The curtain was slowly lowered, while both companies continued the contemporary choreography, full-out and with abandon. 

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