Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nancy Karp + Dancers

Nancy Karp + Dancers
ODC Studio B Theater, San Francisco
February 20th, 2015

The San Francisco/Bay Area dance community is fortunate to have choreographer and dance maker Nancy Karp back in its midst, and to be able to join in the marking of a significant milestone. This weekend, her company, Nancy Karp + Dancers, celebrates its thirty-fifth birthday with a mixed repertory, triple-bill evening at ODC Commons’ Studio Theater. The program is both a testament to three and a half decades of artistic achievement and a celebration of Karp’s distinct brand of contemporary dance. Technically based movement phrases abound with shifts of weight, varied dynamics, specific positions, directional changes and diverse levels. Because of the deep technical foundation, this style reads with a clarity that is getting rarer and rarer these days. And Karp’s work is constructed in such a way that the choreography can radiate, unencumbered. So you leave the performance solely thinking about the movement – how it looked, how it was formed, what it evoked and what it said.

Pictured: Nadia Oka in "time and the weather"
Photo: Tony Nguyen
An ensemble piece for five women (and the first of two world premieres), the program opened with “time and the weather”, a meditation on flow, elasticity and fluidity. Beginning with a duet, two dancers faced away from the audience and started a movement study of the arms. Positions were exact and yet still had a sense of expanse. Eventually, this sequence grew, requiring a full body response with traveling, lunges, and suspensions. Even in these high-energy phrases, nothing seemed abrupt; instead, there was an overwhelming sense of calm and measured-ness. I don’t think “time and the weather” was working within any particular narrative, though it was impossible to ignore that the dance felt like an earth-bound practice - calming, soothing and introspective.   

Up next was “a-motion-upo-motio-n”, Karp’s second world premiere of the evening. A duet danced by Diane McKallip and Randee Paufve, “a-motion-upo-motio-n” was again filled with alive, yet clear positions. Circling arms and deep lunges met scooting temps leveés and pulsing extensions. Just like “time and the weather”, “a-motion-upo-motio-n” didn’t appear to be working within any kind of narrative (whether linear, deconstructed or conceptual), it was really all about the choreography. While that expression of movement was captivating, it’s important to note that the two world premieres seemed very alike. Yes, there was different music, different costumes, different setting and a different format (duet and group), but visually the two dances were quite similar. They almost looked like two separate chapters from one larger work.

Nancy Karp + Dancers’ thirty-fifth anniversary performance closed with 2001’s “il Mercato”, a full cast work for two men and four women. While still holding true to Karp’s choreographic style, “il Mercato” was slightly more whimsical than the previous two dances. Subtle physicality (quick head turns, flexed hands, percussive stamps) was combined with the big and the lush (long arabesques in plié). Mid-way through, a pair of contact improvisation duets appeared, providing yet another dimension, a new and different flavor. And Katie Kruger had some standout solo moments, including a gorgeous grand rond de jambe and a soaring attitude turn.

Friday, February 20, 2015

ConVerge: Destroy//

YBCA presents
ConVerge: Destroy//
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
February 19th, 2015

A long line of dancers dressed in black faced the windows toward Yerba Buena Gardens. Carving out their own speed, distance and intensity, each dancer walked forward and back on an individual pathway. Then, one by one, the dancers peeled off into a movement phrase. They spiraled to the floor; they balanced in airplane arabesques. Motifs and steps were common amongst the group, but the interpretation and expression was all their own.

With these opening moments, another chapter of Leyya Tawil’s Destroy// was underway; this time, set in the lobby of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A multi-year, multi-location dance project envisioned and facilitated by Tawil (Artistic Director of Dance Elixir), Destroy// is a structural trifecta: part pre-planned performance (the created choreography), part dance installation (amongst the gallery space at YBCA) and part artistic happening (where folks may ‘happen’ upon an actively unfolding choreographic experiment in the course of their day). While each Destroy// event is unique, Tawil’s concept follows a specific framework and parameters. A dance is created in a particular space in a short timeframe, followed by a performance where the work is deconstructed or ‘destroyed’. Tawil is really onto something with her Destroy// series. Having set work broken down and re-thought pairs the choreographic process with dance improvisation in a way that feels complete, authentic and intriguing.

Individualism and individual interpretation reigned supreme as the dancers (including Tawil) navigated through several choreographic phrases. You would see a particular movement, like flinging of the arms or reaching upwards from a knelt position or circling of the head. Then each dancer would embody, translate and take on that movement. This could and did involve things like acceleration, repetition, slowing down, and inversion. As an audience member, I would also be fascinated to see what the original source material looked like prior to the performance. The individual interpretation and evolution of the various movement phrases read strongly and clearly. But I think sharing the initial starting point would have even deepened the experience, at least for me.

If there was one thing that took away from this very important work, it was the disconnection between the music and the dance. The score was conflictually dissonant and intensely atonal with a super abstract rhythmical meter. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you also add too high a volume and too shrill a mix, it ends up feeling aggressive and combative. It took focus from what was happening on stage. Instead of two disciplines working cohesively in an art piece, one overpowered the other. Though with each Destroy// event being different, this may not always be the case. With every new undertaking, I would guess that the relationship between the music and dance would also shift and re-set.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nederlands Dans Theater 2

presented by City Dance
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco
February 16th, 2015

With undeniable mystique, creative presence and choreographic risk-taking, each performance of Nederlands Dans Theater draws its audience in. Monday night at the Palace of Fine Arts was no exception as City Dance presented Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in a one-night engagement. The diverse and varied program included four short contemporary dances created over the past twelve years: Johan Inger’s “I New Then”, “Sara” by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, and two works by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, “Shutters Shut” and “Subject to Change”. The company dancers were at their technical and artistic best; the choreography was breathtaking and challenging; the house was packed. It was a great night of contemporary dance performance in San Francisco.

The evening opened with the longest of the four works, Inger’s “I New Then” from 2012. Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, “I New Then” managed to span the dance genre spectrum, utilizing narrative expressionism, abstract contemporary movement, old-school unison jazz, and the requisite absurdity of dance theater. From a pure movement perspective, “I New Then” was fast-paced, engaging and very entertaining. Inger’s choreography is clever and it is dynamic. No question. But the choreographic phrase material and the overall structure of the work felt disconnected. There was a lot happening on stage, perhaps a little too much. The ongoing narrative (while deconstructed rather than linear) got lost in the constant stylistic shifts. And the two vocalization sections were precarious. Vocalization is common in dance theater, often used as an emphasizing or sometimes even an anesthetizing theatrical tool. In “I New Then”, the vocalization felt extraneous and not woven into the larger sense of the work.

A delightful dance interlude followed the first intermission, León and Lightfoot’s “Shutters Shut” (2003). A duet mixing stylized mime with contemporary choreography, “Shutters Shut” was both gorgeous and compelling. In just four minutes León and Lightfoot made a rather broad and successful statement on specificity, with distinct movement, gestural precision and facial enunciation.

Photo: Rahi Rezvani
Amid a smoky atmosphere, a waved, cycled lighting design set the stage for Eyal and Behar’s mystical, otherworldly “Sara” (2013). The brilliance in this dance is how it managed to appear futuristic and substratal at the same time. Coordinating movements (right arm and right leg) were favored over typical opposition (right arm and left leg), giving the work a primitive, animalistic tone. Then, it moved seamlessly into the ultramodern age. A group of dancers upstage right marched and shuffled in place while a center stage soloist lip-synced to the score in an exaggerated fashion. Very avant-garde.     

NDT2 definitely saved the best for last with 2003’s “Subject to Change” by León and Lightfoot. Aside from some more unnecessary vocalizations, “Subject to Change” was a pure joy from start to finish. The dance began with stoic formality as four men ceremoniously maneuvered a large rolled carpet (later revealed to be red in color) upstage. Soloist Alexander Anderson stepped across the carpet and into a technically stunning variation, where sky-high extensions spoke of artistry, not acrobatics. All of the dancing was just beautiful - the expansive and big phrases as well as the intricate and subtle sequences. My favorite moment was of a quiet nature, where soloist Katarina van den Wouwer slowly walked up Anderson’s leg, her feet articulating like a cat’s paw. Throughout the dance, the red carpet was shifted, adjusted, folded and spun. Sometimes the alterations were anticipated; sometimes not. Circumstances and situations were in a constant state of flux, hence the well-chosen title. And as the two soloists navigated these changes, we saw a host of genuine reactions – surprise, struggle and steadfastness.