Saturday, May 09, 2015

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company presents
“An Intimate Evening of Three Choreographers”
San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, San Francisco
May 8th, 2015

The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company is back at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance for their second consecutive May weekend. Last Friday/Saturday brought Project Castoff, a highly engaging program of original choreography by the company dancers. Running this weekend is a quadruple bill of dance by three different choreographers. It was an evening of closeness; an evening of vulnerability; an evening of remarkable contemporary movement.

Katie Faulkner’s Coat of Arms opened the program; a charming and clever duet danced by Faulkner and James Graham. As Coat of Arms began, Graham stood directly behind Faulkner, mirroring and imitating her motions. But this was only the piece’s initial statement. The work quickly developed and evolved, Graham’s interpretations became more his own and the two moved away from their first stage position. While the entire body reacted and participated, Faulkner’s choreography was primarily a study of the arms, as suggested by the title. Some phrases focused on arm positions (particularly the one that was scored by pulsed breathing); some contained body percussion; some were task-oriented; some led to full physical processes. Later in Coat of Arms, another mirroring sequence occurred, except this time, Faulkner and Graham faced each other. Their hands got so close, but they never made contact. This was a moment of realization – even with all the hand and arm choreography, it seemed that they had never touched each other in the entire piece. And as the dance closed, I think that ingenious truth remained.  

Choreographer Risa Jaroslow came out into the space to introduce the next work, her solo Thinking Aloud. She told us that she was going to think out loud for five minutes and explained that we wouldn’t hear it but we would see it. A timer was set and the solo began. An abundance of circular motions made me wonder if Jaroslow was cycling through a set of persistent thoughts; movements against the exposed brick wall looked like a combination of surrender and frustration; eye contact with and close proximity to the audience gave a sense of sharing. That’s what I saw. I’m sure others saw something completely different and that is what makes a work like this so exciting.

Dancers Lauren Simpson and Ronja Ver took the stage in Jaroslow’s Evolutionary Tales, a mini triptych of self-discovery. The first part communicated the movement journey of fundamental organisms and animals – learning how to move, what movement is possible, what range can be achieved, how much weight can be transferred, how far you can pull off center and how much you can extend into space. In part two, the mood changed drastically as audible animalistic growling suggested aggression. Here, each dancer tried to control and dominate the other, and it was definitely not playful. In the final section, the impulse for control and placing was still present, but this time, not as antagonistic. There still wasn’t too much shared affection, but there was a note of contentment and of giving in, in order to work together.

During a brief pause, the chairs in studio 270 were rearranged so that the audience was seated in a horseshoe around the stage’s perimeter. And then, Margaret Jenkins’ A Gallery of Rooms began, a work-in-progress performed by The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. Six dancers entered the space and scattered themselves around a sparse set: three chairs, a lamp and a side table. From there, a collection of short vignettes emerged. The setting was uncluttered and deconstructed, while the choreography was dramatic, theatrical and even a little nostalgic. I don’t think there was a narrative through-line, but the dancers did
Pictured (L to R): Megan Wright, Chinchin Hsu, Ryan T. Smith
Photo: Margo Moritz
seem like characters in a larger story. And so, A Gallery of Rooms felt a little like watching a play. A great play with many standout scenes. The solo danced by Chinchin Hsu was hypnotizing. She started by gently swaying, then her arms and hands rippled through space, followed by a purposely-unsteady backwards-zigzag circuit. Brendan Barthel, Ryan T. Smith and Megan Wright’s trio had an argumentative, confrontational power combined with intense tactile force. An engaging quartet developed from a set of verbal cues. Numbers said aloud prompted different attitudes, different viewpoints and different gestures. And there was one recurring motif that I was so curious about - a finger snap that was aimed out into space. Was it a signal? Was it a call to attention? Or, was it simply a movement?    

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