Friday, September 19, 2014

"The Luminous Edge"

Pictured: Dudley Flores
Photo: RJ Muna
Garrett + Moulton Productions
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
September 18th, 2014

Retro is chic and classic. Contemporary is cool and edgy. Mix the two together, and the possibilities are endless. So what happens when retro meets contemporary in modern dance performance? The result is renewal. And that is what “The Luminous Edge” is all about.

Garrett + Moulton Productions’ newest full-length evening work, currently showing on the Yerba Buena main stage, demonstrates the value of pairing the past and present together onstage. Featuring live music directed by Jonathan Russell with special guest singer Karen Clark, this world premiere had forward thinking, innovative choreography (by co-Artistic Directors Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton) and a timeless narrative. But the structure of the work was the most compelling element. As they have done in a number of previous compositions, Garrett and Moulton opted for a combination cast: company dancers and a movement choir. The inclusion of the chorus is a bit of a retro choice in today’s performing arts landscape. But in “The Luminous Edge”, the connection between the featured dancers and the corps is anything but old-fashioned. And while there are definitely hierarchical issues at play, this particular form provided visual framing, narrative support and theatrical interactions that made “The Luminous Edge” a special combination of retro and contemporary.

The visual framing started in the opening moments of the dance. The lights went up to reveal the movement choir in two lines on either side of stage. While walking back and forth, the lines weaving, they created a corridor to ‘introduce’ the cast members. And in a beautiful cadence, they returned to these original positions at the end of “The Luminous Edge” to help the cast say farewell to each other and to the audience. Yet the ending was brilliantly deceptive – only four of the dancers retreated backward into the abyss, leaving one couple downstage center. Renewal was clearly still in process. The movement choir’s role was changeable and fluid throughout the piece – sometimes they were onstage, sometimes absent, sometimes together as a group, sometimes separated. During much of the choreographic action, they were in a moveable bleacher formation. Organized in three rows, these eighteen dedicated performers provided a physical score of (mostly unison) gestural phrases; movement and narrative context for the various solos, duets, and group sequences.

By interacting with the company dancers in a mutual conversation, the movement choir was equally involved in bringing the renewal narrative to life. In two separate instances, the cast stood in individual spotlights around the stage space. Each of the six company dancers was joined by three movement choir performers whose hands flowed, washed and waved over them. Here the chorus was helping them evolve from one state to another, almost like guardian angels. In another striking, yet contrasting, scene, the movement chorus was strewn about the stage in a chaotic frenzy catching dancers Tegan Schwab and Nol Simonse in a human tornado. Only once in the entire seventy-five minutes did the movement choir’s contribution not make sense - the vocalization sequence. Up until this point, the eighteen performers had been silent and so the decision to all of a sudden mix sound and gesture was curious. It seemed out of place and compromised their carefully cultivated movement power.

While the structure of the work was most intriguing, there were also a number choreographic and performative highlights that deserve special mention. Carolina Czechowska’s early solo (accompanied by the movement choir) was something else. Renewal is a constant process, of both big and small movements; simultaneously quiet and loud. Czechowska’s variation spoke to that complexity – blending the subtle presentation of a single arm and the strength of demi-pointe balances with the vast luxury of attitude turns and arabesque extensions. In addition, the pairing of Schwab and Simonse was incomparable. Anytime they were onstage, especially when they were dancing together, the emotive breadth, personal rapport and technical acumen left you wanting more. Lastly, Garrett and Moulton injected a number of highly energetic full cast choreographic scenes throughout “The Luminous Edge”. This bit of whimsy and spirit was a welcome addition to the lengthy work, which did tend towards similar material and single-level dynamics.      


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