Friday, July 22, 2016

Kristin Damrow & Company

Pictured: Julie-Ann Gambino
Photo: George E. Baker Jr.
Kristin Damrow & Company
May 13th-15th, 2016
Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco
(the following review is based on a video of the performance)

This past Spring, Kristin Damrow & Company marked a special commemorative event – their first home season at Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco’s Mission District. For this occasion, Damrow brought the premiere of her Swallow, a full-length ensemble work for eight women. An erudite, multi-layered piece, Swallow takes a deep dive into form and structure while simultaneously unveiling a number of embedded narrative themes.

An industrial, tech soundscore (by Aaron Gold) sang through the darkness. Slowly and gradually, the lights came up to reveal six women lying on the floor. At first, their movements were small and contained. But as this sequence unfolded, accumulation and gradation took over – choreographic phrases expanded, motions grew larger and the dancers changed levels, moving off the floor to standing and back again. Processes of accumulation and addition were well established in these first five minutes, and they would inform much of the forty-seven minute dance.

Following this initial group statement, Colleen Griffin broke away for Swallow’s first solo – an arcing, flowy circuit that deliciously devoured space. Next, Yoshie Fujimoto Kateada joined Griffin, and the two began a duet of appropriation and teaching. Griffin shared her reality with Kateada. In turn, Kateada internalized the movement but let it grow and evolve with her own sense of timing and expression. During this interplay, there was not one moment of competition or contentiousness; instead, it was a tender duet of learning and discovery. But the narrative fibers within Swallow were complex and intricate – an antagonistic atmosphere would soon envelop this gentle scene. Four women crept into the space and with harsh control and dominance, forcibly and repeatedly pulled Griffin and Kateada apart.

Compositional devices of accumulation and transformation continued into the middle of Swallow, as did the multi-layered narratives. Though the middle section of the work also seemed dedicated to structural exploration. Different groupings abounded - three versus five, trios, quartets, quintets – all with an array of partnering, unison and canon. Damrow’s choreography was clever, varied and unexpected, some motifs even inspired by martial arts sparring. And the company’s spatial awareness deserves particular applause. Even when the full cast was on stage, dancing high-octane movement phrases, there were no collisions (nor close calls).

By far, the standout performance in Swallow was Courtney Parkin’s solo. Beautifully composed and beautifully danced, this variation had a unique clarity of intention and placement, communicating every single second of the choreography with care and specificity – hands sweeping the floor, grand battement kicks to the side, high super pass├ęs and elegant rolls on the ground.  

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