Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
July 30th, 2016
The orchestral ensemble and five vocalists took their places upstage. Out of the darkness, an eighteen-member movement choir and six company dancers burst into the space with optimistic energy – lifting each other high in the air, leaping in jubilant assemblés, arms fluttering with joyful promise.
A buoyant opening to Garrett + Moulton Productions’ Speak, Angels, the latest full-length work created by the incomparable team of Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton. Speak, Angels is both stirring and uplifting; a beautiful piece with a multi-layered narrative. It is a project that fills the stage with abundant and varied artistic voices. A dance that shares inspired choreography performed by accomplished practitioners. And while Speak, Angels certainly bears similarities to the company’s previous work (thematic fibers, structural composition and choreographic style), this new world premiere is definitely doing its own thing.
Hope and community flourished throughout the piece (like that shown in the first sequence), yet the face of real challenge was also present - struggle/sorrow and assurance/care co-existing on the stage, as they so often do in life. In Vivian Aragon and Nol Simonse’s first pas de deux, it felt like their bodies were actually crying, while the movement choir tenderly embraced each other in the background. This led into a contemporary court dance for Alison Adnet, Carolina Czechowska, Michael Galloway and Ryan Wang (who were eventually joined by Aragon and Simonse) where fellowship and collective strength sang into the space. In another scene, Czechowska reached through the air, searching for Galloway - he was right in front of her but she couldn’t find him. Aragon and Simonse spent one phrase being lofted by the movement choir. While the accompanying music was somewhat somber, they were being encircled with love. And though the piece slowed a little from time to time, Garrett and Moulton even managed to inject a little humor and whimsy along the way.
The six solo dancers (some veterans of the company, some more recent arrivals) showed great spirit and vitality throughout the hour-plus work. And it was particularly exciting to see real-time dialogue between these dance artists - new relationships developing, existing partnerships deepening.
One notable difference in Speak, Angels is that the role of the movement choir seemed more expansive than in past iterations. Yes, they still communicated a captivating gestural score and embodied a living physical framework, but in addition, there were increased choreographic opportunities for the complete ensemble, for smaller groups and for individuals. And I loved how mid-way through the dance, the movement choir slowly traveled from one side of the stage to the other. It was so subtle (you really didn’t notice it was happening) yet so effective - a true homage to the mystery of changing circumstances.