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.