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. 

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