EmSpace Dance & detour dance
December 6, 2015
If there was one word that could describe Sunday night, it would be unsettled. The weather in San Francisco was chilly, gloomy and uncertain. It was the perfect backdrop for the evening that would soon unfold at NOHspace in the Mission. In a shared billing, EmSpace Dance and detour dance brought two works, Whether to Weather and Beckon, respectively. Both pieces courageously abide and traverse the unsettled, uncomfortable and sometimes unnerving corners of human relationships.
EmSpace Dance’s Whether to Weather, conceived by Founder/Artistic Director Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and written by Brian Thorstenson, brings unsettled relationships to light by exploring two different journeys. In the thirty-five minute piece, the story of two male romances is told concurrently - one text-based and the other, choreographic. In the piece, the former has been ongoing for some time, while the latter is new and novel.
Whether to Weather begins, not with a duet, but with a gorgeous dance solo, performed by Kegan Marling. A combination of expansive movements - arabesque turns, long attitude poses - meet specific, placed gestures and articulate spinal undulations. Performed to Max Richter’s re-imagining of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (each aspect of the dance relationship is set to one part of this brilliant musical composition), this first dance had a sense joy, yet also a sense of searching.
Whether to Weather toggles back and forth between the two relationships, and following the opening choreographic segment, we meet the second couple. Here are two people existing together in space, but in a very disjointed fashion. Like they are speaking two different languages and neither is able (or maybe even wants to) translate the other’s words. This was apparent whether they were discussing landscaping their home or as they respond to a natural disaster. Most of their relationship is expressed through language, though in the middle of one vignette, the two sing while one plays the accordion. It was both touching and incredibly impressive.
When the dance couple meets, they engage in a flirty and seductive exchange. But by the next time we encounter them, they have clearly moved to a different phase of their relationship. A tender and connected duet evolves – heads leaning on shoulders, arms intertwined, excited spinning lifts. And in their last pas de deux, the pair have come full circle and appropriated each other’s role from earlier: the searcher has become the seducer and the seducer, the searcher.
As Whether to Weather concludes, both relationships have fractured, though in different ways. The work was thought provoking, engaging and clever. How Stuart wove the two relationships into one work was really quite something.
The unsettled atmosphere continued in detour dance’s Beckon, choreographed by co-Artistic Directors Eric Garcia and Kat Cole, as inappropriate interactions took center stage. An ensemble dance theater work, Beckon explored the notion of ‘uninvited’ – the uninvited guest; the uninvited attention; the uninvited commentary; the uninvited response. While narratively driven, Beckon did not follow a linear story. Instead it progressed as a collection of captivating and often troubling vignettes.
Beckon begins in the pitch black, with the cast singing together, almost meditatively. But quickly that breaks into a unison animalistic movement phrase. Combative, angry, unrelenting and confrontational, it traveled straight towards the audience. The dancers did a fantastic job embodying this difficult primal vocabulary.
What struck me most about Beckon was the imagery. Whether communicated through movement, text or song, strong visceral themes penetrated every moment. Prowling quest for possession; undesired invasion of space; caged leering; glares and stares. Choreographically, flinging motions, syncopated percussive rhythms, and gestures (some like baseball signals) filled the room. And the final pas de deux between Kevin Lopez and Scott Marlowe was a tempestuous struggle, with equal parts fight and volatile passion.
But Garcia and Cole also spoke to the other end of this narrative spectrum. Beckon had moments of calm. A dancer gently placed apples in a line after they had been rolled out to her, bringing order to a chaotic situation. There were moments of camaraderie. A duet where two women gently leaned on each other, keeping a humane point of contact throughout. The entire cast offering their hands to each other; supporting each other in lifts; working together to create shapes in space. While the majority of the material in Beckon definitely (and purposefully) was unsettled, there were these beautiful flashes of respect and kindness amongst the storm.