Monday, February 15, 2016

"Dance Lovers #5"

James Graham Dance Theatre
Dance Lovers #5
Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco
Feb 14th, 2016

This past weekend, James Graham Dance Theatre celebrated the wonder and strength of human connection with their multi-genre performance cabaret, Dance Lovers. In its fifth year, the program featured an eclectic mix of San Francisco/Bay Area artists in a series of duets that ranged from eccentric to touching to hilarious. With this spectacular evening, director James Graham and the entire cast have reminded us of something important - modern performance can be topical and penetrating but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun and full of laughter.

Melissa Lewis and Christina Busler kicked off the night with their dance theater offering, I Wanna Be Ur Boyfriend. A comical foray into infatuation, flirting and dating practices, this duet had all the landmarks of the dance theater genre. A healthy dose of absurd wit met with a little angst, a deconstruction of popular dances ensued, and there was a mix of disciplines including spoken word, song, gestural phrases, instrumental work and of course choreography. A multi-generational pas de deux followed with Raphaël Boumaïla and Heather Cooper’s Broken Wing, danced by Boumaïla and Molly Allen. Broken Wing opened with a phenomenal solo by the father character, contemporary dance drama at its best. Limón curves abounded, as did expansive spirals, gorgeous hinges and an open upper torso. With a curiosity toward the space and surroundings, the daughter figure then danced a lovely and sweet solo full of childhood joy and freedom (and some impressive grand jeté leaps). The work concluded with a heartfelt and nostalgic duet that captured motifs from both of the solos.

Hot is by far the best word to describe Vincent Chavez and Michael Galloway’s Sweetheart Merry-Go-Round. This sexy and playful contemporary dance communicated romance, intimacy and affection through sensual partnering and connected unison sequences. It was a duet that just made you smile. Dance Lovers’ first half closed with a performance art piece by Morgan True and Thomas Anthony Owen about gender identity, fluidity, stereotypes and image. To explore these complex themes, True and Owen employed an interesting (and admittedly cheeky) mix of aggressiveness, control and dominance alongside trust and reliance.   

Act II opened with Patrick Barnes and Rowan Turner’s theater-inspired parkour meditation, I Don’t Dance. A comment on winning, losing, participation and camaraderie, I Don’t Dance utilized a smart combination of interactive games – tag, boxing, wrestling and rock-paper-scissors – and text to share its narrative message. Eric Garcia and Wiley Naman Strasser invited the audience to join them in the performance space and form a circle around the perimeter for Chan Chan. They told stories, taught a song and initiated a telephone game that went on while they danced a short duet. Pedestrian gestures coupled with suspension and release, all very authentic and in the moment. Chan Chan was also an intriguing bi-lateral choreographic experiment. Experiencing the space together created a real sense of egalitarianism and inclusion, yet the stories and movement were quite intimate and personal. A great addition to the Dance Lovers program.

Next up, Melissa Hudson Bell and W. Kamau Bell delighted the audience with their priceless duet, Thirteen and Counting. A comedy monologue and an interpretive physical phrase came together to tell their unique story and history. This fed into a brilliant and humorous sequence that they dubbed “thirteen marital gestures”, in which they took cues and direction from their four-year-old, whose vocal instructions had made up the score. It was an adorable and plucky picture of what love looks like. And a piece that includes a sequence of gestures is certainly à propos when the performance is taking place at the Joe Goode Annex. For the evening’s finale, Graham took the stage in a center pool of light. With reaching choreography, he welcomed the entire cast of Dance Lovers #5 to join him. A community, together, expressing themselves through joyful movement erupted in the space – a beautiful ending to a strikingly beautiful program.

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