Sunday, October 04, 2015

UNA Projects

Ships and Salsa
co-presented by UNA Projects and ODC Theater
ODC Theater, San Francisco
October 2nd, 2015

A stage washed in light blue. White folding chairs around the perimeter. Water sounds. A soloist, Jayne Paley, begins dancing center stage as Catherine Ellis Kirk and Lauren Kravitz slowly creep into the space.

With these initial images, Ships was underway, a mystical trio by Artistic Director Chuck Wilt and New York-based UNA Projects. Wilt has partnered with ODC Theater to bring two differing programs over a single weekend. This was Program B – a dual bill of twenty-first century contemporary dance.

The term ‘twenty-first century’ is a purposeful one, not just a descriptor that places the work in a certain time period. Ships and UNA Projects’ second work, Salsa, were keenly of this moment. Narrative themes were broad, yet not simplistic. Movement was accessible, though not at all pedestrian. Structure and form were varied and clear, never haphazard. Theatrical tools were incorporated, but the dance and choreography still took the lead.

From the dancers’ gait, their intention and their relationship to space, Ships had an instant mystery and deliberate indeterminance. The dancers were searching, curious about each other and their environment. Issues of control were at play – being controlled versus exerting free will. And the empty chairs provided a spooky underscore; it seemed like they were being watched, but by an invisible something or someone. Ships’ enigmatic atmosphere oozed from Wilt’s choreography – calm walking was suddenly met with wild flailing episodes; flowing arms were interrupted by locked positions; slow steadfastness gave way to whirling allegro. It was as if Kirk, Kravitz and Paley were going in and out of a hypnotic state.

Salsa, an ensemble work for the entire company (the three women plus Wilt and Kyle Filley), emerged directly out of intermission while the house lights were still up. A hotel pool image was projected on the cyclorama and the dancers took various positions as part of this scene, complete with Adirondack chairs, arm floaties and pool toys. As the lights dimmed, Salsa began with a social dance-inspired duet. But then it quickly evolved into an expression of youthful community, of togetherness. Designed like a mini-suite of dances, Wilt explored the complexity of youth through a series of movement sets - innocent flirtation, free expression, social insecurity, vulnerability, one-upmanship, and pure joy. And towards the end, a slow motion, unison, gestural movement phrase brought the focus to mindful self-awareness in the midst of a community. This was a collective, but it was made up of different individuals and personalities. Salsa was not too long, not at all. Having said that, there were several moments in the last third that felt cadential, like the conclusion of the piece. And so, the material that followed seemed like a bit of an afterthought. Some of the choreographic intricacies were also a little difficult to see from time to time. Upstage dancers occasionally used their upstage leg or arm while another dancer was standing directly in front of them. It didn’t happen too many times, but Wilt’s choreography and UNA Projects’ movement is compelling; it draws the viewer in, so you definitely want to be able to see it all.

Photo: Jake Saner

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