Saturday, November 21, 2015


Fog Beast
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
November 20th, 2015

This doesn’t happen very often, but last night, I think I might have seen a new performing arts sub-genre. Presented in partnership with Dance Up Close/East Bay at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Fog Beast’s CHANGE was physical theater, but it was more than that. It was performance art, but still, something more. It was mixed discipline, but it was more than that too. CHANGE, conceived by Fog Beast co-directors Melecio Estrella and Andrew Ward with composer Ben Juodvalkis, is a Dance Theater Rock Show. And a really, really good one at that. A smart collection of music, movement and scenework expressed a message of shifting climate realities – done with an appropriate level of seriousness, but also with a healthy dose of fun and parody.

Fog Beast entered the space by walking down an aisle, dressed in white robes; a spiritual, almost religious opening to the work. Immediately, the quintet set about organizing the room, moving the mobile set pieces around, manipulating their environment and taking turns
Photo: Jessica Swanson
at pre-set microphones where they vocalized an array of nature sounds. And then, they suddenly became a full band and offered up a theme song for CHANGE.

Ward ventured away from his post at the drums and began giving a lecture/presentation on water, drought and climate change. After providing one set of facts, the band would punctuate the narrative with a portion of the theme song. A fascinating rondo structure developed between the text and the music (ABACADA), where each presentation slide was the ‘new’ material (the ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’), and the song served as the returning ‘A’ motif. 

Movement-wise, CHANGE utilized a number of different physical vocabularies. There were transitional tableaux – pictures that began in a frozen state and through slow, measured movements, morphed into something different. Swirling motions also informed many of the movement phrases: serpentine arms, spiraling backs and turns that evoked atmospheric water images. Kristen Greco treated the audience to a brilliant scene, in which she became a duck through small reflexive movements. She wasn’t just playing a duck, she was embodying the spirit of a duck, becoming that animal. And three-quarters of the way through CHANGE, Caroline Alexander took an extraordinary turn as a perky, cheerleader-type giving a public service announcement. 

What really blew me away in CHANGE was every Fog Beast performers’ wide-ranging talent. Lots of companies do dance theater and do it well. In their ranks, they may have dancers who are also talented actors. Perhaps they can sing too or even play an instrument. But it’s pretty rare that an entire cast is this highly skilled in multiple disciplines. The musical acumen was particularly strong; every individual in this quintet is an incredibly accomplished instrumentalist, vocalist (there was three-part, if not four-part harmony in a number of spots), and in a few cases, both. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it felt like CHANGE was a Dance Theater Rock Show. We were watching Dance Theater, to be sure, yet we were also watching an amazing musical ensemble.

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