Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Restless Creature"

Pictured: Wendy Whelan, Photo: Nislan Hughes
Wendy Whelan – “Restless Creature”
presented by San Francisco Performances
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
January 16th, 2015

Every dance season is full of newness – opening night galas, world premieres, debut appearances, the first “Nutcracker”, and then the initial performances of the new calendar year. Bay Area dance is ushering in 2015 with enthusiastic furor and San Francisco Performances has led the charge with their recent presentation of Wendy Whelan’s “Restless Creature”. This hour-long (and highly anticipated) program features the stunningly talented Whelan in four contemporary dances by four different choreographers, each of whom joins her onstage in their respective work. The evening was a triumphant artistic and creative exposition, the house was packed, and the only downside was that “Restless Creature” was only in town for a two-night engagement.  

With their peaks and valleys of comfort and uncertainty, two of Max Richter’s haunting scores set the ideal mood for Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu” (2013). The work consisted of two individual solos for both Cerrudo and Whelan, subsequently feeding into a complex duet. Mystery and transformation abounded in each section – poses would be reached and then melt; center would be attained and then deconstruct into a less stable existence. Cerrudo maintained this depth of polarity throughout “Ego Et Tu” and in one of the most brilliant recurring images, Whelan was lifted off the ground and her legs ran slowly through the air. She was going somewhere and yet going nowhere in the same instant.

A recently completed work, Joshua Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences” was a technically involved and inventive court dance for two. His choreography oozed elegance, exactness, sophistication and specificity with every turn of the head, flexion of the wrist and popping of the feet into demi-pointe. The floorwork section in the middle of “Conditional Sentences” lagged a bit but the detailed physical geometry in every other part certainly made up for that brief loss of energy.

Infused with a myriad of dynamics, Kyle Abraham’s “The Serpent and the Smoke” (2013) jumped back and forth from slow, lush and gooey to frenetic, chaotic and frustrated. Abraham and Whelan’s duet was the most emotionally charged work on the program with the two in a constant battle of engagement and disengagement; awareness and apathy. Moments of intense commitment (the partnered developpés on high demi-pointe) morphed into periods of aloof indifference. And while the lighting design represented outside the box thinking, it did make some of Abraham’s choreography very difficult to see.

Brian Brooks’ “First Fall” (2012) had a most dramatic opening – the wings and the cyclorama rose slowly to reveal the raw, untouched space while Whelan and Brooks faced each other from opposite sides of the stage. This setting provided “First Fall”, a striking pas de deux on its own, an incredibly vast scope and increased structural landscape. In the five short chapters, one choreographic idea was clearly predominant – that of leaning. One sequence had Whelan stylistically walking across the front of the stage while leaning on Brooks, who appeared to not appreciate the obvious infringement. Later, Whelan performed a series of full body falls with Brooks, who then had a collaborative and encouraging role. Some of “First Fall’s” leaning was welcome, some not; some was supported, some invasive. 

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