Monday, May 04, 2015

Project CastOff

Pictured: Chinchin Hsu
Photo: Kevin Jenkins
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company presents
Project CastOff
San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, San Francisco
May 2nd, 2015

Two dancers took their positions upstage right, a third dancer, mid-way left, all costumed in flowing tropical fabrics. Sometimes they danced in unison; sometimes on their own; sometimes in pairs. But whatever the format or sequence, every motion expressed and conjured waves, arcs and circles. Fast and slow, partial and complete, arms swam and hips pivoted. Parallel degagés mapped the curved pathway that the leg creates in the air. And the entire trio was constructed with an interesting fusion of contemporary vocabulary and traditional island dance.

Beneath Wakea by Kelly Del Rosario kicked off the inaugural weekend of Project CastOff, a new artistic endeavor being undertaken by members of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. Project CastOff is a creative opportunity. A chance for these accomplished dance artists to present their own original choreography, together on a shared program. This first iteration showcased six new works; a diverse collection from the next generation of contemporary choreographers. It was a great night of modern dance and I hope that Project CastOff sees many more editions in the years to come.

Act I continued with Megan Wright’s Did He or Didion, performed by Wright  along with Robyn Gerbaz. Two paper bags were placed on the stage and Gerbaz began by reading a Joan Didion excerpt aloud. A dance theater work, Did He or Didion examined how the body and persona react to change, perception and expectation, from both internal and external stimuli. Much choreographic material was packed into each movement phrase, and some lovely moments shone through. Wright stood in first position demi-plié, and her feet almost climbed out and adjusted into parallel. Theatrical repetition was also utilized in the piece – a classic dance theater tool that simultaneously provides emphasis and anesthesia.

The evening’s first half closed with Margaret Cromwell’s Clay and Good Intentions, a duet danced by Kelly Del Rosario and Ryan T. Smith. The pair emerged from stage left, walking into the space slowly and methodically. When they arrived in the center, the movement expanded in scope, tempo and intensity. From that point on, the dance toggled back and forth between these two extremes of carefulness and abandon. But the heart of each sequence was focused on precise articulation of the joints, limbs and muscles.

After a brief intermission, the lights came up on Chinchin Hsu’s Sunrises at 3:33. Three dancers filed into the space from the corner of the room, one right after the other. Different temperaments were immediately apparent – one jubilant, one annoyed and one crotchety. At the end of the dance, a suitcase on a rope was pulled across the stage and each dancer put on something from inside the case. First a pair of pants, then shoes, then an overcoat. I wasn’t positive how that part fit into the overall piece, but I was captivated as the scene played out.  

Haunting banjo music underscored the next work, C4, by Brendan Barthel. The lyrical music existed in that precarious ‘in between’ space, neither major nor minor, but rather a complex combination of both. Barthel crafted a duet (which he danced with Victor Talledos) along this same theme of porousness; one that was sometimes a very intimate pas de deux and sometimes two very separate independent solos. And yet, C4 moved seamlessly from one state to another, which made for a very layered visual experience. A concurrent sense of solitude and togetherness.

How will you start your dance? How will you end it? And what will transpire in the middle? Project CastOff closed with Ryan T. Smith’s between the beginning and the end, a solo that sought to examine these pertinent questions of composition. Smith’s point of origin was the right arm, stretched out to the side. And the piece ended with the same movement, this time using the left arm. What unfolded between these two points was a varied stream of physical consciousness. Primarily lyrical (though not exclusively), Smith had such clarity and intention as he cycled through his own choreography. It was a mesmerizing whirlwind of movement and yet, came back to this very quiet moment. His left arm extended in the same way his right arm had, and the lights dimmed.

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