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?

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