Saturday, July 25, 2015

Post:Ballet - Six Pack

Post:Ballet presents
Six Pack
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
July 24th, 2015

When you think of the term ‘six-pack’, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Whatever it might be, a common theme is present – six individual parts combining to make a whole. When you buy a six-pack of drinks, six individual bottles or cans make up that item. To get six-pack abs, six separate muscles must be present. A six-pack is both one entity and six entities at the same time.

For Post:Ballet’s annual summer season, running this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Six Pack is an apt title. While Six Pack certainly refers to this being the company’s sixth year of performance, it also points to a collection of six individual items that come together as a whole. And that whole here is not only this amazing 2015 summer program, but also something bigger. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert Dekkers, Post:Ballet is a contemporary performance powerhouse with limitless potential. Six Pack exudes Post:Ballet’s uncompromising vision, passionate drive and forward trajectory.

Many six-packs contain six of the same item, but sometimes a variety is in order. And with their 2015 Six Pack, Post:Ballet offers an outstanding sampler with classic, lite, spicy, experimental, hybrid and limited edition choreographic flavors.

Part of Post:Ballet’s first summer season at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater, 2010’s Flutter is the classic selection in Post:Ballet’s Six Pack. Though not a ‘classical’ piece in any way, Flutter has both survived and thrived over time, which is what makes it a classic. And it still has a rare hypnotic power, leading its audience on a captivating journey from the first moment to the final leg circle. A trio set to two very different musical parts (the first a dynamic clapping score by Steve Reich and performed by The Living Earth Show; the second, the Sarabande from Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 performed by Abigail Shiman), Flutter examines the interplay between movement and sound like no other. Having never seen the exact same cast twice, each viewing provides the opportunity to learn and experience the constructive depth in a new way. 2015’s iteration ushered in new costumes by Christian Squires, who also danced in the piece, and if I’m not mistaken, a slightly different opening scene. But Dekkers’ choreography is still this work’s driving force – the intricacies in hands, fingers, torso and legs along with the purity of piqués in attitude. Performance after performance, Flutter maintains its choreographic integrity while never compromising freshness and vitality.

For those who might want something a little lighter in nature, Pitch Pause Please may be the dance for you. But this particular lite flavor is neither less-than nor lacking anything. Rather, this world premiere is a work of grace and flow that allows the audience to enjoy the sheer beauty of artists collaborating. The lights came up to reveal soloist Jessica Collado and percussionist Andrew Meyerson together on stage; Collado’s movements and facial expressions reacting to the various sounds. While I’m sure that Pitch Pause Please had a set choreographic framework, it truly looked like Collado and Meyerson were collaborating in the moment; the moving body and Samuel Adams’ original score becoming one. Ringing chimes were met with ringing extensions of the limbs, staccato notes with prancing feet.

2014’s Yours is Mine was definitely the spicy choice of the evening. Footlights, bare stage and an overhanging light grid set the scene for this aggressive, avant-garde, no apologies quartet. Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Aidan DeYoung and Squires played their game of domination, crawling, circling each other like primitive creatures, or at least with primitive instincts. Who would take control? Then as Cora Cliburn entered the space, the mood shifted. Jealousy, fighting and competition still read in the men’s movement and demeanor, but they were completely transfixed, and maybe even hypnotized by Cliburn.  

Experimental flavors are the ones that are being ‘tried out’ to see if they resonate or if they don’t. Reason does not know is one of these exploratory taste tests. A duet that Dekkers made for the Kansas City Ballet in February of this year, Reason does not know has a purposeful instability that informs much of the duet, literally and figuratively. The relationship between the two dancers (Cliburn and Ricardo Zayas) was difficult to characterize. On the one hand, there was smoothness, an ease between them, mostly present in the beautiful lifts. But there was also a detachment and struggle for balance, particularly in the relevé walking motif. This is one experimental flavor profile that I’m still thinking about, but I would like to try it again.

ourevolution (2014) is the hybrid flavor in the Six Pack. Much about this piece can touch the viewer: the tech animation, the costumes/scenic design, the choreography, and for this particular viewer, the narrative undercurrent. In ourevolution, Dekkers has written a physical essay, documenting concurrent states of being and simultaneous contrasts. This is why the work is so relatable. Five dancers spend the first part of ourevolution in a walking sequence. Right away, there are questions. Are they going somewhere or nowhere? Are they walking to meet or to avoid? The sense of distance and closeness, affection and disengagement is so potent even in this pedestrian movement. The piece crescendos with various solos, duets and group phrases over its twenty-plus minutes, and ends with a hopeful note of affection. Squires lays his head on DeYoung’s shoulder in a moment of pure tenderness and ourevolution closes with a final choreographic cluster - support, care and awareness.

Limited Edition screams specialness and scarcity, and those are the elements that make up Do Be: Family, the second world premiere on the Six Pack program. Part of a full-length
Post:Ballet dance artists
Cora Cliburn and Jeremy Bannon-Neches
and company
Photo: David DeSilva
evening next fall (the result of a year-long collaboration with The Living Earth Show), Do Be: Family is a narratively driven dance theater work exploring the chaos and complexity of group dynamics and systems. Whether enthusiastic or forced, participation in those systems is at the heart of this work. Exaggerated faces and a set of expressive gestures (I think I even saw dancers checking imaginary watches) run throughout; their repetition providing equal parts emphasis/anesthetic and stabilization/destabilization. Many of the poses, especially in a featured duet by Squires and Vanessa Thiessen, are steeped in manipulation. Both dancers meticulously moving and placing each other into specific attitudes and positions. The score contains a number of well-known folk songs that are continually interrupted with altered rhythms and adjusted meters. This created a creepiness that totally fit with the scene unfolding onstage. There are many contemporary artists for whom collaboration drives process. But there are actually very few who seek collaboration as a force for change, for creative growth, for departure from the norm. Robert Dekkers is one of the few, and with Do Be: Family, it shows. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

SKETCH 5 | Stirred

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery
SKETCH 5 | Stirred
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 16th, 2015

Another year of Amy Seiwert’s Imagery’s SKETCH series; another chance to marvel at where contemporary ballet is in 2015. As the ever-elegant Artistic Director Amy Seiwert made some introductory remarks, she explained that SKETCH was designed to challenge both choreographers and dancers to go outside their comfort zone. To that end, 2015’s program, subtitled Stirred, joined three works: 2012’s Traveling Alone, Seiwert’s new piece Back To along with Starting Over at the End. This last work was really the centerpiece of SKETCH 5, a collaborative project between Seiwert and ODC Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson. Prior to the showing of Starting Over at the End, Seiwert and Nelson also spoke a bit about the process that went into the making of this particular dance, because as they shared, it is challenging to capture and communicate choreographic process on stage and in real time. But the results speak volumes. Starting Over at the End was narrative revealing and structural edgy; I can only imagine how live and charged the studio incubator must have been during the compositional journey.

An ensemble work, Traveling Alone, was originally created by Seiwert in 2012 and premiered by the Colorado Ballet. A soloist (Dana Benton) began a sculpting variation in a corridor of light stage left, arms darting through and dividing the space while spinning in a series of turns. Then, a contemporary corps de ballet (four couples dressed in white) joined the action and began a pas de deux – sometimes in unison, sometimes in sets, sometimes on their own. Once each group (the soloist and the corps) had been introduced, they began working together and taking on each other’s movement quality. Traveling Alone was certainly not devoid of emotion, but the piece appeared to be non-narrative, or at least non-linear. Instead, structure, formation, vocabulary and organization were constantly in flux and at play. And brilliantly so. The flow between each different system was seamless, making Traveling Alone a physical stream of consciousness. One of my favorite moments in the ballet was the pas de trois about a third of the way through. The pas de trois is a common configuration in both traditional and contemporary ballet, but it is also one of the most difficult to choreograph and execute. This one delivered on both fronts. If there was one criticism of the work, it was the womens’ costumes. New design and new ideas are integral to dance today, but these skirts didn’t work.

Nelson and Seiwert’s collaborative endeavor, Starting Over at the End, took the middle spot on the program. A set of different dance pieces that fit together to form a gorgeous and complete puzzle, the individual sections were overlaid like Baroque music (even though the Schubert score represents the space between the Classical and Romantic eras, which was quite a bit later). Within the rich choreographic material, several moments deserve special mention. The first solo had an elegant grace that was constantly interrupted with surprising and unexpected changes in direction and dynamics. A pas de deux for two men was powerfully electric from the first instant to the last. In one of the final duets, Liang Fu lowered Annali Rose slowly onto the floor. Watching her wrists unfold gently was truly magical. But the standout solo was for and by James Gilmer. He began stationary in parallel fourth while his arms and upper body had their own chance to shine. Quickly, his whole being engaged with vast extensions and expansive positions. Starting Over at the End also had some strong narrative moments, particularly when a solo was happening amidst much action on the stage. These several instances relayed a palpable, real sense of being surrounded by others, yet still feeling left out, ignored and forgotten about. 

Though not at all the same piece (choreographically nor structurally), Back To had a similar nostalgia as Sophie Maslow’s 1941 masterwork, Dust Bowl Ballads. At its heart, Back To is about community, but not just the overall notion of community, the actual community that has been created by these dancers. This was apparent right from the start as the company came out walking clustered together. Each of the subsequent dance vignettes was set to Bluegrass music by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – there was a wedding quintet, a passionate, romantic duet full of abandon (again by Rose and Fu), a funeral scene and a dance about salvation. Each part was a delight, and I also liked how instead of closing with a big ensemble phrase, Back To concluded quietly. As the others had left the stage, Rose sat on the bench that had figured predominantly throughout the work, which again had us pondering community. At the very end, there was a feeling of alone-ness, but not sadness. Was that because the community had been so strong and so present that she could sense it and remember it even when she was by herself?
Amy Seiwert's Imagery in Back To
Photo: David DeSilva

Monday, July 13, 2015

SPF8 - LV Dance Collective

SAFEhouse Arts presents
Photo courtesy of
LV Dance Collective
LV Dance Collective
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 12th, 2015

The final day of SAFEhouse Arts’ SPF8 (Summer Performance Festival) at ODC featured six different contemporary dance programs. And in the middle of the day’s schedule sat LV Dance Collective’s Red Egg. Instead of a single full-length piece or a program with a narrative/structural through-line, Co-Artistic Directors Kao Vey Saephanh and Martha L. Zepeda smartly chose to bring a sampling of the company’s work. Five short contemporary compositions that showcased the group’s skill, breadth and charm.

As the lights went up on Zepeda’s Re-Bir-Tick, the five-dancer company laid down center stage in a snowflake or flower formation. The dancers rolled on the ground and their limbs swam through space; pulse and connection reading through each supple movement. After spending quite a bit of time on the floor developing these initial movement phrases, they stood and the material began to vary, though still steeped in the pulse/connection theme. Zepeda’s choreography is undeniably contemporary, yet with a strong balletic foundation, leading to some lovely moments. A beautifully subtle pas de cheval fed into a fluid series of chaîné turns. And as Re-Bir-Tick concluded, the dancers returned to their opening positions and the lights dimmed.

From the costumes to the undulating movement to the music, Zepeda’s second dance, Hmmm…, had an unmistakable belly dance feel. At the same time, this trio had its fair share of contemporary dance injections, arabesque and extensions mixing with the sinuous arms and upper body. Saephanh and Zepeda both choreographed and danced the third work on the program, Ready Set Crack. A nice departure, this duet featured robotic and mechanical articulation, along with some impressive contact improv-style lifts and balances. Fly Ureta, a solo danced by Raquel Del Fiorentino and again dually choreographed by Saephanh and Zepeda, was absolutely gorgeous. Del Fiorentino is an extraordinary performer, particularly skilled at transitions. Every step just melted into the next movement, without compromising clarity or intentionality.

Closing the afternoon was the program’s title piece, Saephanh’s Red Egg. The program notes explained that in the Mien culture, the presentation of a red egg symbolizes good luck for the year ahead. That shared experience, community and togetherness certainly read throughout the dance. Costumed in reds and whites, each dancer held a red egg carefully in their hands, communicating through their movements its significance and importance. But even with that measured care and attention, Saephanh managed to drive the work forward through outward expression rather than internal focus. At the end of the dance, the performers even ventured out into the audience to give out red eggs in the crowd. So the sharing, the community was definitely there. Having said that, it still felt like something was missing; perhaps something more to the narrative that also needed to be explored.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Experience 2.0

Arts & Above
Experience 2.0
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
July 10th, 2015

To be a successful creative team, the players must work and evolve together. But it cannot only be about the collective. Each individual must concurrently seek personal expression and growth, in concert with their contribution to the group’s activities. Kate Jordan and Bruno Augusto, who together make up Arts & Above, have constructed a program that allows the audience to glimpse into both sides of the artistic process: solo work and partnership. Experience 2.0 begins with a set of performance art solos in which each artist makes their own statement: Augusto in AngolanAmerican and Jordan in Build. Closing the evening is CoHere, a contemporary dance duet where, as the title suggests, two parts of the same whole cling together.

Upon entering the Dance Mission Theater performance space, a video was already in
Bruno Augusto in AngolanAmerican
Photo: Chani Bockwinkel
process. Some kind of vehicle was traveling down roadways, pathways and highways and we were watching the route from its perspective. Instantly, the notion of a journey was present in the room, even before AngolanAmerican formally begun. Augusto slowly moved onto the stage and a dual presence emerged – he was physically in the space and his projected shadow also became part of the video installation. Unfortunately, I was only able to see the last third of this solo, once the moving videography had stopped. This was not a fault of the piece. It’s just that this type of video causes motion sickness for me, so I could only look at the action onstage for a few seconds at a time before needing to look away. But even in those short viewing spans, the depth of AngolanAmerican still came through. What I could see was a profoundly personal journey. One section found Augusto constantly changing hats, putting on different ones and in different orders. This felt like a comment on revolving circumstances as well as indicating the non-linear nature of most journeys. And the juxtaposition of the shadow and the real person captivated; revealing our disconnected-ness with reality and perception.

Build was a different kind of journey, yet just as personal. Jordan pushed towers of green milk crates into the space, and then violently knocked three of them down. Next, she proceeded to construct new columns and used them as platforms for physical activity – walking, running, jumping, crawling, sliding, sitting and balancing. So the structures really became functional; facilitators of and for movement. Build was about constructing and deconstructing, creating and tearing down. A task, goal and purpose-focused solo. While
Kate Jordan in Build
Photo: Lindsey Lucivero
Design: Rob Stone
some frustration was apparent in the piece, generally speaking, the crates didn’t look like obstacles. Instead, they were just objects that were a part of a larger process. The possibilities in Build far outweighed the constraints, and the final structure was an impressively tall tower, requiring attention, diligence, confidence and palpable intensity.

A short, intimate duet, Jordan and Augusto joined forces for the final work of the evening, CoHere. By far, the danc-iest piece on the Experience 2.0 program. Narratively, CoHere tackled care and dignity, though certainly in a deconstructed manner of speaking. And structurally, the work examined unity. To both of these ends, the choreography found the pair clinging to one another for support, for protection and for comfort. This was present in walking motifs as well as in catching and releasing sequences. But at the same time, there were also moments where the desire to break away and exert one’s own authority was at play. This was particularly apparent in one dynamic repeated phrase. With increasing speed and force, each dancer continually ran, fell and rolled away from the other.  

Thursday, July 09, 2015

SPF8 - Opening Program

SAFEhouse ARTS presents
Jenni Bregman & Dancers in Flocking
Kristin Damrow & Company in Opaque
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 8th, 2015

For the next four days, ODC’s Mission campus will be brimming with emerging choreographic talent as the annual Summer Performance Festival moves in for its eighth year. An exceptional event curated by SAFEhouse Arts founder Joe Landini, SPF8 hosts multiple shows each day and features fifteen different contemporary dance troupes and choreographers. Kicking things off was an opening program of two distinct works, both devoted to the notion of contrast: Jenni Bregman & Dancers in Flocking and Kristin Damrow & Company in Opaque.

Running and leaping from the wings; posing and falling into the space. Flow, movement, freedom and joy read immediately in Jenni Bregman’s Flocking. With these opening images as well as the material that followed, dramatic shifts and changing extremes informed the entire work, a narrative that everyone can certainly relate to. Even the costume design was based on extremes. The company (or flock) seemed to grouped by the color they were wearing – some in grey, two dancers in a grey/red combination and another couple completely clad in red. A visual statement about the whole and subdivisions within that collective. The mood also fluctuated from the lighthearted opening moments to sections that were steeped in angst. And of course, choreographic contrasts abounded throughout Flocking. From a contemporary pas de deux that was all about flight to grounded walking sequences to a rocking hip hop solo, the entire cast moved through Bregman’s varied vocabulary with excitement and skill. While not entirely a light piece, Flocking was fun to watch, and the dancers looked like they were having fun with it too, except for some obvious nerves in the first few minutes.

Contrast also factored heavily into Kristin Damrow’s Opaque, an ensemble work for an all-female cast. Group dynamics and individual dynamics were constantly in play, along with the porousness and fragility that exists between these two states. In addition, vulnerability, determination and ominous strife seeped through every scene and movement phrase. Opaque was charged from beginning to end; an intoxicating contemporary dance that hooked you instantly and kept you on the edge of your seat.

Pictured: Anna Greenberg, Courtney Parkin
Photo: Golden State Photographic
Opaque opened with a soloist bathed in dark, subtle lighting. Shadowy and spooky, the company quickly joined her onstage watching every motion with steely intent. Multiple different dancers engaged with her in a collection of highly technical choreographic duets. While each pas de deux was diverse and unique, they all shared a sense of competition, of battle, of the struggle for power. Splayed palms made an appearance in several of these vignettes as dancers pushed each other away or attempted to keep one another at bay. Damrow built choreographic sequences that seemed to simultaneously cling to the floor and to the air, all communicated with an incredible sense of authority. And in a perfectly constructed cadence, the first dancer once again isolated herself from the group as the lights dimmed and Opaque came to its conclusion. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Summer Dance Series - Program A

The San Francisco Conservatory of Dance presents
The Summer Dance Series: In-Studio
Program A – Sharp & Fine’s Miniatures, Joy Prendergast’s Collisions
June 30th, 2015

The San Francisco Conservatory of Dance is fast becoming one of my favorite performing arts venues in the city, for everything from emerging choreography to student showcases to well-established troupes. And each year, the Conservatory hosts an in-studio summer dance series. The first program of 2015 joined two contemporary trios on a shared program: Sharp & Fine’s Miniatures (choreography by Megan Kurashige and Shannon Kurashige) and Collisions by Joy Prendergast.

As the lights went up on Miniatures, two dancers entered the space and a solo saxophonist (Joshua Marshall) positioned himself against the upstage wall. Marshall began a hauntingly ethereal solo line while the dancers moved slowly and methodically, connecting and intertwining their hands and arms. A third dancer soon joined, and after reciting the first of many Shakespeare excerpts, began animatedly dancing around the duo. Then the dynamics shifted. The soloist stood silently while the duet went after their interdependent sculptures with more urgency and intensity. These dramatic dynamic changes would inform much of the work.

Pictured: Rachel Laws in Sharp & Fine's Miniatures
Photo: Shannon Kurashige
The Shakespeare excerpts were not being acted out literally, but they were not randomly thrown in either. And the dancers may not have been dancing directly to the music, but again, the score was not arbitrary. This juxtaposition of theatrical elements takes us to the core of the work. Though there certainly was a deconstructed narrative at play, the interdisciplinary aspect of Miniatures was more about form and less about deciphering the story. The use of movement, text and sound revealed the structural properties of each, and how when combined thoughtfully, they have an unmatched ability to set a scene and create a mood. The word thoughtful is key here because Sharp & Fine’s choreographic team of Megan Kurashige and Shannon Kurashige are always thoughtful in their endeavors, from the collaborative elements to the costumes to the movement itself.

Choreographically, the duets in Miniatures were steeped with unexpected partnering and the solos with challenging extension turns and demanding grand ronds de jambe. Intentionality and articulation were at the heart of this piece and the cast certainly delivered.

A different mood was set with the second trio of the evening, Joy Prendergast’s Collisions, one of individuality and sharing. In silence, amidst the natural light of dusk, three dancers performed their own movement phrase, sculpting the space with their individual statements. After subtle lighting was introduced, each dancer took a turn alone in the space, building and developing on their initial choreographic commentary. During these solos, a combination of recorded text and classical scores sailed through the air. The compelling nature of Collisions was in each dance being very personal, yet the expression, scope and execution reading fully outward. Almost like we were being told three unique stories, but only snippets, just parts of a whole. In each case, the choreography was phenomenally good and the dancing, divine.

At the end of Prendergast’s dance, the three performers came back together, adding spoken phrases to the mix - statements of reassurance and encouragement that also had a healthy dose of dismissiveness and humor. As suggested by the dance’s title, Prendergast was commenting on a collision – when the reality of situation and circumstance is challenged by an uncontrollable internal dialog.