Monday, March 16, 2015


Passion, Intrigue, Drama
ODC Theater, San Francisco
March 13th, 2015

This past weekend, sjDANCEco traveled north for its first ever San Francisco season. And the takeaway from their Passion, Intrigue, Drama program at ODC Theater is that dance theater is itself a diverse genre. There is multi-media/new media dance theater; collaborative interdisciplinary dance theater; absurdly obscure dance theater; and there is dance theater where the movement tells an accessible story of humanity and human interaction. Passion, Intrigue, Drama was a lovely reminder of this last style.  

A dive bar from decades past; drinking glasses strewn about; patrons in various stages of dishevelment; tables and chairs in disarray. This is the scene as Maria Basile’s Tango Fatal (2013) begins (scenario by Lorenz Russo). The bartender (played by Daniel Helfgot) immediately comes forward and begins introducing the cast of characters that frequent this particular establishment. Starting the work with this context was not only very entertaining, but also incredibly helpful – we knew who the characters were, a bit of their history and how they were related to each other. Program notes and gestural mime are just not quite the same. By no means were we given a complete biography, but it was a starting point, a place from which the dance could develop. It was a genius move, especially because the torrid, charged character connections are the heart and crux of this piece. Even though Tango Fatal is a fairly new work, it has a bit of a ‘throw-back’ feel to it, like it had been plucked out of an old Hollywood movie musical. Basile opted to primarily stick with contemporary movement phrases and variations with just a splash of tango and ballroom. The eight-member cast gave their all and, with the exception of a few awkward lift sequences, it was a great start to the night.   

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, José Limón’s 1949 masterwork, The Moor’s Pavane tells a story of desire, deception and despair. Four characters - the Moor, his wife, his friend and his friend’s wife – cycle through a set of elegant court dances, while a devastating narrative simultaneously unfolds. And that juxtaposition of regal appearance and evil reality informs the entire ballet. Many dance companies have The Moor’s Pavane in their repertory and much has been written about the piece since its premiere more than sixty years ago. So what sets one rendition apart from the others? The most successful iterations pay equal attention to each of the four characters. As the piece opens, the first image is of all four standing connected in a small circle center stage. It is clear from the start that their journey is intertwined and interrelated, with each having an equal role to play as it unfolds. sjDANCEco’s award-winning reconstruction (by Gary Masters and Raphaël Boumaïla, who also danced the Moor) is all about exploring these characters individually and as a collective group. This version is the real deal. The entire cast should be credited for communicating the storyline with their committed movement and extensive dramatic range, though a few of the big extensions did prove challenging balance-wise.

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