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.

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