Friday, July 29, 2016

"Double Exposure"

ODC Theater presents
Double Exposure
ODC Theater, San Francisco
July 28th, 2016

Every once in a while, you encounter a contemporary dance company that is extraordinarily special. One that stands out. A group that combines choreographic excellence, innovative structures, groundbreaking concepts and impeccable performances. RAWdance is one of these rare treasures. Co-Artistic Directors Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein are pioneering artists who continually astound with their talent, wit, intelligence and authenticity.

RAWdance’s newest project, Double Exposure, adds yet another creative triumph to their already impressive oeuvre, one that turns to curation, process and form. A collection of thirteen duets, made by sixteen West Coast-based choreographers and danced by Smith and Rein, Double Exposure is an archive of today’s contemporary dance community. It is a testament to the breadth and diversity of choreographic practice. And it is stunning collage of physicality, combined into a single evening-length work.

Double Exposure’s duets were performed in series, one right after the other, with the name of the choreographer illuminated on the back wall. In between each two-four minute variation, a brief pause allowed the dancers to change costumes or sometimes re-arrange the stage space (a stunning display of organizational logistics in its own right). These interludes never felt like a stop in the action, rather, an extension of the dance itself. Many of the breaks included video of or live talking by Smith and Rein. A breaking of the fourth wall to share charming facts about each other, their thoughts about this particular piece of work and in one case, a karaoke mash-up.

Double Exposure opened with Smith and Rein’s own duet. On two chairs, facing each other, they explored different points of contact: forearm grasping forearm, palms cradling the head and feet pushing against the torso. Joe Goode’s mix of text, mirroring, movement scoring and vocals added a dose of realism and humor to the stage. And it also introduced the first instances of that direct and personal conversation between the performer and the viewer (which, as previously mentioned, would recur throughout the work). KT Nelson’s offering was a pas de deux in the true sense of the term. A ‘dance of two’, Smith and Rein never once touched during this highly technical sequence, and yet the continuity and connection of their pairing was overwhelming. Next came a sexy, smoldering statement from Amy O’Neal – a craving pulse rippling through torsos, spines and even the wrists.

Dramatic and clever use of costuming and props informed Monique Jenkinson/Fauxnique’s contribution - a duet that revealed the space between constraint and possibility, using a broad range of movement (from classical ballet all the way to pedestrianism). Holly Johnston brought a narratively-charged piece to the table. Though I’m not completely sure of the exact message at play, the extremely athletic choreography had a sense of urgency and alarm, appropriately underscored by storm-like sounds. Slow, small, contorted movements took focus in Shinichi and Dana Iova-Koga’s duet – fingers reacting to the air, toes articulating one by one. While this style of movement isn’t my personal favorite, the contrast between it and the previous excerpt certainly made for an interesting visual. Tahni Holt’s work was all about struggle with Smith and Rein engaged in a wrestling match, fighting for control and power. Kate Wallich took on form and structure with circuits, repetitive patterns, directional changes and unpredictable lifts. And the turning/spinning segment center stage was a highlight of the entire evening, reminiscent of a record player.

RAWdance's Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein in
Amy Seiwert's duet from Double Exposure
Photo: Andrew Weeks
David Roussève crafted a unison movement phrase for Smith and Rein, one that would morph and evolve over its duration. With decision-making and text prompts, the phrase was repeated multiple times with higher intensity and at faster speed. What started as lyrical quickly became a swirling tornado of energy and emotion. Clarity and intention ran steadily through casebolt and smith’s choreography. This was apparent not only in the specificity of each motion’s beginning and ending point, but also in the journey from one place to another. Ann Carlson provided the most character-driven chapter of Double Exposure. Smith and Rein seemed to be portraying different stages of life – as infants, children, adolescents and adults. A late eighties prom vibe emerged for the final duet, by Amy Seiwert. With such a recognizable scene also come assumptions of what movement might unfold. Seiwert challenged that notion by creating a very contemporary duet in this nostalgic place. There was an egalitarianism surrounding the container, and a delightful unexpectedness in the experience.

Any discussion of RAWdance’s Double Exposure cannot conclude without mentioning Smith and Rein’s radiant performance. The pair moved through thirteen varied duets with such grace, confidence, rigor and strength - all in, all the time. Phenomenal dancers; gifted communicators; accomplished artists. Double Exposure is a definitive tour de force.

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