Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Sonorous Figures"

San Francisco Conservatory of Dance
Summer Dance Series
July 28th, 2014

The San Francisco Bay Area dance scene has a specialness; a distinct flavor, a unique pulse and incredible breadth. There is an incomparable range in genre: ballet, modern, aerial, dance theater, multi-disciplinary, film, world dance. Diverse groups from long-standing historic companies to newly formed troupes. Large scale venues and black box theaters; site-specific locations and surprise happenings. Star choreographers and up-and-coming performing artists, seasoned dancers and new professionals at the beginning of their careers. San Francisco Conservatory of Dance’s Summer Dance Series seeks to bring this variety together by facilitating performance collaborations between established directors, experienced dancers and emerging artists. July’s final offering is “Sonorous Figures”, a two-part contemporary piece conceived by choreographer Christian Burns and musician Donald White. For this fifth year of the Summer Dance Series, the Conservatory has also welcomed the public to its SOMA studio - a close, intimate setting ideal for a work all about authenticity and the essence of deconstructedness.

Section I, subtitled ‘Figures in Black and White’ acted as a prelude to the main body of the work and was Burns’ contemporary take on neoclassicism. The costumes were deconstructed, simple black and white practice clothes à la Balanchine; the choreography also appropriately devoid of narrative. Ethereal and otherworldly, this highly technical duet, danced by Aidan DeYoung and Deanna Gooding and accompanied by White at the piano, carried a great deal of attention, care and precision. Extraneous theatrical elements were downplayed so that in true neoclassical fashion, the movement could shine front and center. And there was some gorgeous choreography that rightly deserved the spotlight. Two promenades particularly stood out. Gooding, in a textbook arabesque on high demi-pointe, was brought full circle by DeYoung (a seasoned pas de deux partner) who supported her from the front, with his back to her. Towards the end of this overture, Gooding executed a solo promenade in 2nd attitude, with her arms in a high 5th position. Burns also instituted a great sense of parity in the lifts. Gooding balanced DeYoung on her back, and then DeYoung lifted her high in the air in a standing position. A short vignette, ‘Figures in Black and White’ made a lovely statement about the beauty in deconstruction.

Photo: RAPT Productions
The lights dimmed and “Sonorous Figures’” second scene was set – two women (Emily Jones and Shannon Leypoldt) sat at a table downstage right while Burns entered from the left curtain, playing a character that was equal parts hobo and melancholy clown. Modern with a hint of dance theater, there was a lot going on in Section II (‘Figures in Flesh and Blood’) but it never felt like too much. Neither linear nor abstract, ‘Figures in Flesh and Blood’ was a mosaic of concepts, images and stories, all dosed with sensitive, though bittersweet, nostalgia. Choreographically, Burns injected his solos with articulative isolations in his entire body, though specifically in his limbs and spine (a bit of a throwback to puppetry). His relationship with the floor was in constant flux - sometimes affectionate; sometimes harsh - and the choreographic tool of repetition served a dual purpose of emphasizing and anesthetizing at the same time. Snippets of different dance styles abounded like he was sharing a collection of different remembrances. A particular highlight was the fast, frenetic ballet sequence underscored by White’s virtuosic interpretation of a presto classical composition. Compelling choreography was also seen in the women’s sequences, punctuated by some good old-fashioned Graham vocab: the triplet, off-balance tilt in 2nd as well as some stunning airplane turns in arabesque. As all three performers cycled through solos, duets and trios, there were moments of begging and pleading; yearning and seeking. And what made ‘Figures in Flesh and Blood’ reminiscent of deconstruction was the personal nature of these images. Pretense was nowhere to be found. A variety of themes were present, but in each, it felt like the audience was being invited to witness an intimate discussion, a vulnerable conversation. Genuineness is powerful; it is a deconstructed state; stripped down and bare. With such an authentic theme, “Sonorous Figures” couldn’t help but be powerful too.  


Monday, July 28, 2014


Summer Season
Z Space, San Francisco
July 26th, 2014

RAWdance marked its 10th anniversary season with a summer program of world premieres at Z Space in San Francisco’s Mission District. Co-Artistic Directors Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein presented two works – “Burn In”, a trio for Rein, Smith and Victor Talledos, and the evening’s much-anticipated event, “Turing’s Apple”. Rounding out the program were an additional two offerings from guest companies: “Nawala”, an ensemble piece by Project. B. along with Gretchen Garnett & Dancers in “A Dedication”. While I wouldn’t say that there was a common narrative running through all four works (nor is that a necessity), there was definitely an on-going sense of occasion throughout the whole evening: celebration, authenticity, thankfulness and most important, a commitment to artistic exploration.

“Burn In” unfolded like a triad of physicality. A musical triad is a particular chord comprised of three notes – the tonic, the mediant and the dominant. Each note has its own unique function and distinct quality yet works with the other two to form a consonant whole. “Burn In” felt like a choreographic representation of a musical triad. First the tonic note. Rein and Smith opened the work with a meticulously controlled duet. Like watching a slow motion ritual, the pair demonstrated total synchronicity as they moved through a complex set of steps, maintaining connectedness in every single transitional moment. Movements on the floor, like Rein’s gorgeous rond de jambe à terre, seamlessly fed into calm lifts and serene balances. Though the most engrossing element was the slightest hint of illusion and mystery that was also present. Next came a mediant sequence, which found Talledos joining in for a running vignette. The mediant note (3rd in a chord) is quite literally the in-between space; necessary for fullness and meatiness but not quite enough on its own. Rein and Smith used this middle scene to build on the previously established illusion, while simultaneously introducing the contradiction between perception and reality. As the trio either jogged in place or traveled ever so slightly, the audience perception was that they were actually covering quite a distance. Last was the dominant, a chord’s elastic fifth note. It yearns for resolution but is also incredibly pliable. The final portion of “Burn In” used this elasticity in its approach to the hands, arms and face. The running recurred, now at a high speed; urgently yearning for a cadence point. And when Rein hit her turned out 5th position in plié, the resolve of that moment was magic.   

After a brief pause, Project. B. took the stage with the premiere of Tanya Bello’s “Nawala”. An ensemble piece for seven dancers, “Nawala” was all about the pulse. The entire work had an underscoring heartbeat, which was sometimes accentuated by the movement and sometimes purposely countered by the choreography. But the most interesting aspect of the work was its pseudo-Graham style and structure. While not Graham vocabulary, the staging of a main couple supported by a quintet chorus certainly was reminiscent of the modern master. “Nawala” was a fine dance, and Bello’s structural perspective has great potential.

“A Dedication”, choreographed by Gretchen Garnett in collaboration with the performers (Leah Curran, Jackie Goneconti and LizAnne Roman Roberts), was like a music box had come to life. With a plinky, staccato score, and modeling choreography, this music box image was well evoked. Two of the dancers posed and molded the third into various positions and shapes. Yet it wasn’t in a controlling or manipulative way, in fact, it seemed very caring and with great attention. “A Dedication” then morphed into a full trio where two dancers were frequently juxtaposed against the third. Again, this ‘two against one’ formation can sometimes seem isolating and directorial, but through the vastness of her movement, Garnett instead created a very hopeful scenario.

After intermission, RAWdance returned to the stage with the premiere of Smith and Rein’s “Turing’s Apple”. This was much more of a dance theater composition than I’ve ever seen from this company – a fantastic combination of set design, videography, costuming, scenework and choreography that really worked together to bring the narrative to life. In the first seconds of the piece, we saw temptation. Smith walked forward slowly and contemplatively. Three dancers extended their arms from the wings holding an apple in their hands. Would he take one? Would he not? Did he want to? Did he not? In the next full
Photo: RJ Muna
company scene, we saw constraint and change. The women cycled through a number of petit allegro sequences, which were centered on a glissade jeté combination. With the glissade, they felt the freedom to move horizontally in space, only to be stopped by the jetés that then took them vertically. In the men’s pas de deux, we saw a mix of intimacy and distance. The dance, for Smith and Chad Dawson, was alluring, enticing and sexy – no question. But throughout the extraordinary duet, an apple acted almost like a third dancer, keeping them at a constant distance from each other. An abundance of attitude extensions and demi-pliés also signaled the partially realized connection between these two characters. Throughout the work, lines of apples had been arranged on the floor and on a conveyor belt structure like pieces of code. As the music faded and the lights dimmed, the cast attacked and dismantled these specifically organized arrangements. And so, “Turing’s Apple” left us with some final quandaries. What is order? What is disorder? Is there a fluid movement from one state to the other? Or is it a zero-sum game?

Friday, July 25, 2014


Pictured: Rachel Furst
Photo: David DeSilva
Amy Seiwert’s Imagery
SKETCH 4 | Music Mirror
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 24th, 2014

On a rare hot San Francisco evening, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery played to a nearly sold-out house with the first night of their SKETCH 4 run. The outside heat was nothing compared to the inside sizzle as choreographic process took center stage. The SKETCH series identifies and approaches a different choreographic puzzle each year, and invites artists to set new work on the company with that challenge as their foundation. But at its core, the SKETCH series makes a larger artistic statement, beyond the choreographic and theatrical risks. Artistic Director Amy Seiwert has envisioned an on-going program that seeks to examine ballet’s general role in the twenty-first century dance scene, as well as specifically in the emerging choreographic field.

2014’s SKETCH installment tackled the conversation between movement and music. To that end, SKETCH 4 saw different choreographers (Adam Hougland and Amy Seiwert) creating premiere works for the same original music (composed by Kevin Keller). The result? Two glorious physical manifestations of musical concepts and ideas.

How did Hougland’s piece epitomize Keller’s score? Through a detailed treatment of articulation and intonation. Musical articulation refers to how a note (or notes) is approached – quick staccato; languid legato. In “Beautiful Decay”, Hougland used contemporary ballet vocabulary to examine and reflect these different articulations, journeying far past the typical neo-classicalists. Neo-classical ballet tends to ‘mark’ important moments in the score with similarly styled movements. Thinking outside the norms, Hougland paired frappés against falling musical arpeggios. As lifts sinuously toggled between flexion and extension, avant-garde notes dropped from Robert Howard’s cello and from Keisuke Nakagoshi on the piano. “Beautiful Decay” also spoke to musical intonation. The search for pitch and tonal purity is fluid, constantly changing, teetering on imbalance, and Hougland’s take on contemporary ballet equally (and wonderfully) lives on the edge. The men’s quartet was surprisingly egalitarian in nature, almost aerobic with its continuous pulsating bounces. The section was so full of life and movement potential that the few unison issues faded quickly. Hougland’s “Beautiful Decay” is not what you would expect from contemporary ballet, which is right on target for the SKETCH series.   

In “Don’t You Remember”, Amy Seiwert met Keller with an experiment in consonance and dissonance. While dissonance in music is certainly familiar, it is also very mysterious. From a basic theory perspective, it is purposeful tension that is sometimes resolved and sometimes not. Seiwert took consonance and dissonance to a whole new level with her treatment of pointe and demi-pointe throughout “Don’t You Remember”. In one of the opening pas de deuxs, a supported coupé turn extended into a long luscious arabesque on full pointe. Next, the turn morphed into an attitude derriere on high demi-pointe. As the piece continued, this movement motif reappeared and recurred. Each time, it successfully introduced tension (dissonance) into otherwise calm moments (consonance). Again, two full-company sections suffered from some unison trouble and one of the duets had some rough patches on opening night. But in the context of the whole work, both were minor. And then came the final men’s variation – it was like seeing a chord cluster in physical form. All the internal intervals; all the harmonics; all the chaos; all the sounds you didn’t know were possible. Those last moments were sheer brilliance.

If there was one disconnect in SKETCH 4, it was the lack of interaction between the two groups of performing artists – the dancers and the musicians. The ODC Theater stage is an intimate space and so, the musicians were right alongside the dancers, in the midst of the action. Yes, they were positioned upstage right, but certainly not removed or separated at all. But the two didn’t interact. With a program focused so intently on the relationship between music and movement, it just seemed like a missed opportunity. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Encore for Enrico - A Benefit Concert

Dance Mission Theater
July 12th, 2014

Dance Mission was a place of honor and celebration on Saturday, July 12th, for Enrico Labayen, choreographer, teacher and dancer. Labayen is currently facing a health crisis and the dance community has responded. Eleven choreographers, over two dozen dancers and a sold-out house packed the theater to support this beloved San Francisco/Bay Area performing artist.

Split into two halves, the evening’s fifteen performance works reflected the region’s rich variety of dance and breadth of genre: ballet, modern, dance theater, fusion, and world dance. There was even one piece that featured a live snake! Act I’s highlight was Victor Talledos in Labayen’s “Ay, Ay, Kalisud”. For the majority of this short, but powerful solo, Talledos was in contact with the single set piece, a small bench. Whether seated on it, lying underneath it or balancing on it, the bench acted like a pas de deux partner. But it was a duet like no other. On the one hand, there was an air of constraint because the bench could not respond, but this rigidity was also offset by an overwhelming sense of physical freedom.    

The excerpt from Nol Simonse’s “What’s Important”, danced by Dudley Flores and Simonse, stole the show’s second act. Underscored by a pounding techno beat, Simonse has composed a humorous physical essay, examining stylized dance from the past three decades. Dance moves from all walks of life were combined together with the most imaginative, contemporary touch: step-ball-change, the running man, aerobics, jazz pas de boureé, grapevines. It was light, energetic, hilarious and full of nostalgia.

Enrico Labayen closed the program with a lyrical solo, “Will You Still Be There?”. While Billie Holiday’s silky vocals soared through Dance Mission, the sense of hope, fullness of spirit and devotion to movement was manifest.

For more information, please visit http://www.labayendancecompany.com/