Monday, January 26, 2015

"Cookie Cutter"

Dance Up Close/East Bay and ka·nei·see | collective present
“Cookie Cutter”
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
January 25th, 2015

Five piles of assorted cookie cutters are arranged in an X pattern on the floor. A dancer emerges from the upstage left door, walks toward the center of the space and right into one of the cookie cutter jumbles. She stops and begins to re-organize the center collection. Four other dancers join and do the same, transforming the cookie cutters into large shapes around them. A swirly, twisting movement phrase unfolds, sometimes in unison, sometimes not. And even with the full-out dancing, the individual mold patterns they created are hardly ever disturbed. That is, until this first sequence comes to a close. They had constructed their own personal design; it was of their making and would only be dismantled when they were ready.

These were the opening moments of “Cookie Cutter”, the newest full-length work by Artistic Director/Choreographer Tanya Chianese, performed by the ka·nei·see | collective. Told through a suite of dances, the piece immerses its audience into the world of cookie cutters – real ones and conceptual ones. And in the course of fifty minutes, “Cookie Cutter” tackles perceived expectations and rule following with drama, passion and some well-placed humor.

Following the first group sequence, ‘Molds’, nine short dance chapters came to life in Shawl-Anderson Dance Center’s upstairs studio. A lovely solo of changing levels and full extensions, ‘When In Doubt, Bake’ was set to a musical score overlaid with recipe instruction text. As the soloist covered the space, the mood was almost a little saucy, like she was doing her own thing despite the audio directions. Choreographically, the material in this vignette (as well as in a number of others) had a very sculptural focus. With the movements of their legs and arms, the dancers were sculpting the space, just like a cookie cutter sculpts dough into particular forms and shapes. In ‘Against The Rocks’, Chianese used compositional structure to convey her thematic material. During this lengthy segment, the dance morphed from unison to duets to trios to solo work and from a timing perspective, utilized canon and imitation. The message here was that there is no ‘one right way’ to do things, no absolute prescription for success. A similar sentiment was communicated in the ninth dance, named for the title of the work, ‘Cookie Cutter’. What began as a very classical ballet sequence (beautifully danced, by the way) evolved into something different. Some non-traditional vocabulary was slowly added in (just like when making cookies, you slowly combine ingredients for a smooth batter), so that by the end, there was contemporary and classical movement co-existing in a very harmonious and delicious state.

‘C is for Cookie’ was a crowd-pleaser, with its recognizable childhood soundtrack and ‘Convection’ treated us to a percussive combination of handclaps, snaps and cookie cutters sliding around the space like a game of shuffle puck.

‘1 Gallon Milk = 36 Showers’ was the only chapter that didn’t quite fit for me. Considering the title and with the accompanying text score, it was fair to assume that the intention of this particular dance was to talk about resources and waste. That point got across. And of course, the connection between cookies and milk is evident. It’s just that the lesson in ‘1 Gallon Milk = 36 Showers’ didn’t really fit thematically with the rest of “Cookie Cutter”. And an interesting aside, this is the second piece I’ve seen in the past six months where milk was poured onto performers during a modern dance!     

Anyone in the audience could see that the entire cast was all in; technically savvy, genuine and authentic. Much of Chianese’s choreography calls for extreme abandon and the dancers were 100% committed to that goal. No question. Having said that, there was some unevenness-times where the movement became a little out of control and the technical clarity got muddy. The dancer’s intent was right on point, but the intense energy and choreographic accuracy has to be balanced.

“Cookie Cutter” continues next weekend at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. If you’re in the area, go see it and if you’re not, make a special trip. Tanya Chianese and ka·nei·see | collective are important players in the emerging contemporary dance scene.

Pictured: Emma Salmon, Vera Schwegler, Rebecca Morris, Ali Weeks, Mallory Markham
Photo: Rob Best

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