Monday, October 09, 2017

Smuin - Dance Series 01

Smuin, Contemporary American Ballet
Dance Series 01
Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
October 6th, 2017

The first notes of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C echoed through the Palace of Fine Arts Theater – a famous music selection in concert dance, the score for George Balanchine’s timeless Serenade. Though here, this familiar musical opening was ushering in something different, Garrett Ammon’s Serenade for Strings, brought to life by the dance artists of Smuin, in this first program of their twenty-fourth season.

A cast of ten walked forward in a casual, unrushed gait, which quickly erupted into an expansive pas de deux for five pairs. Jubilant and varied movement abounded: flexed feet, thrown lifts, chugging jumps to the side. Morphing from a full ensemble statement into smaller groupings, the choreographic layering continued and accumulated with swiveling heads and emboîté turns; funny, whimsical moments meeting with luscious grace. Nicole Haskins and Jonathan Powell brought an innocent, playful vivaciousness with an early waltz and delighted with exuberant pas de chats and more emboîtés in the accelerando section near the end of the piece. This contrasted beautifully with the forward motion and sense of longing in Tessa Barbour and Robert Kretz’s lengthy duet; full of hope and strength, their stretchy arabesques sculpted the entire space around them. And while Serenade for Strings is not exclusively partnering, Ammon’s ballet is most definitely a dance for couples, steeped with a deep throughline of reciprocal respect.

I actually quite enjoyed seeing a different choreographic perspective paired with this known ballet music, and because Ammon’s Serenade for Strings has been in the Smuin repertory for a couple of years, the physical syntax is very much in their wheelhouse (with the exception of few challenging transitions here and there). Though I am curious about Serenade for Strings’ compositional structure, particularly the long middle portion, which, though beautifully danced, felt like it lagged. The piece follows an allegro-andante/adagio-allegro vivace movement sequence, or fast-slow-fast. Certainly a common format for choreography, and equally common is that the middle section can prove elusive, and that was the case here.  

Erica Felsch and the Smuin company in
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Requiem for a Rose
Photo Keith Sutter
Next up on Dance Series 01 was the much-anticipated Requiem for a Rose, by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, a ballet that penetrates with its contrasts and dynamic arc. The lights rose to reveal Erica Felsch center stage, a scarlet rose held in her mouth. Replete with ferocious, powerful choreography, Felsch’s opening solo married angular motions with wild swings; intensely crossed 5th positions with pulsating isolations. As twelve dancers (a bouquet of roses) entered the space to join her, the visual contrasts were striking. They, in flowing red skirts; she, in a minimal flesh-toned leotard; the other women in the cast with their hair tied back and wearing pointe shoes; she, hair unencumbered and with no shoes at all. From this point, the stage would continually transform into a series of distinct vignettes, each one a dynamic journey of physical fortissimos and mezzo pianos, emphatic accents and sustained fermatas. An emotive first duet by Valerie Harmon and Oliver-Paul Adams stunned with its sweeping, innovative lifts, while the men’s quintet sequence introduced charged turns and directional shifts. A later enchainment by Harmon brought back motifs from Felsch’s first solo, re-imagined and re-envisioned, followed by the sublime intertwined energy of Erin Yarbrough-Powell and Ben Needham-Wood’s serpentine duet. And then, the simple, but powerful conclusion to Requiem for a Rose. Led by Felsch, the cast walked across the stage from right to left. Had they decided that she knew the way and they would follow her? Did they just want to momentarily experience and visit in her reality? Or were they transfixed and hypnotized by her wisdom and acuity?

Closing the Dance Series 01 program was the revue-style ballet set to Frank Sinatra classics, Fly Me to the Moon, created by company founder Michael Smuin. Elegant, sparkling gowns, white gloves and debonair hats filled the stage for this choreographically diverse suite – traditional ballet set off by lyrical flair, contemporary vocabulary infused with jazz and social dance. Fly Me to the Moon is cool, it’s sophisticated and most important, it is fun. Throughout the nine individual scenes, flowy, well-crafted, yet demanding, phrase material unfolded: parallel pirouettes and Russian pas de chats, layouts, drag slides and grapevines, batterie arising out of the most surprising moments. Old-school tap even made an appearance in the first part of Erica Chipp-Adams and Adams’ The Way You Look Tonight – a mélange of pullbacks, paddle turns and double wings. Every lift and motion in Felsch and Powell’s Moonlight Serenade fittingly ascended skyward. And Kretz was the epitome of smooth and specificity with the Fosse-influenced That’s Life solo.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group

Cal Performances presents
Photo Peggy Woolsey

Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group
Moses(es)
September 23rd, 2017
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

I think any performing arts writer uses favorite language components to describe what they’re seeing – favorite terms, favorite adjectives, favorite phraseology. I certainly do. Though one word that I rarely use is masterful. But every once in a while, masterful is the most fitting descriptor, and this weekend’s performance of Moses(es) by Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group at Cal Performances was special. It calls for the use of ‘masterful.’

Devoid of the wings and the cyclorama, a fully lit, deconstructed space greeted the viewer as they entered Zellerbach Hall. A red suitcase was placed amidst ample silver tinsel that had been strewn about the stage. Artistic Director, choreographer and performer Reggie Wilson entered, standing downstage right. He straightened his clothing, smiled at the audience and tossed wrapped candy out to them. In these opening moments, Wilson connected directly with the audience, and so right away, the line between performer and viewer had become porous. One by one, the company came out into the space, introduced themselves, announced what I assumed was their birthplace as well as giving a statement of time, which I again assumed was how long they had been working with Fist and Heel Performance Group. 

As “Go Down, Moses” scored the action, the cast assembled in a wedge formation upstage left, nodding their heads, while Wilson packed all the tinsel in the suitcase and rolled it away. He returned, and with the company, began harmonizing and vocalizing. From that instant, you knew that everyone onstage was a consummate interdisciplinary artist, skilled as movers, vocalists and percussionists.

Moses(es)’ early choreography spoke of familiar motions and strong water imagery, water, of course being integral to much of the biblical Moses story. Performers walked, knelt and rolled in the space; bodies were ceremoniously laid down on the ground, like a baptism. Legs swam in the air and dancers dove into second position, lopping up an entity (presumably water) and then letting it go. Layered on top were recognizable gestures – pointing/following the horizon and cradling a baby.

In preparation for seeing the work on Friday, I had read that questions of leading and following were intrinsic to Moses(es) and that exploration was so, so clear at many points in the seventy-minute composition. Mid-way through, a trio began dancing in unison and as their phrase material continued and accumulated, one would take over leading the group, then another, then another until each member of the trio was experiencing the choreography at their own pace, with no leader whatsoever. A later quintet had some similar qualities. Two dancers introduced a movement phrase; three more joined a number of beats after (in canon) and then eventually the five found their way back together in unison. A call and answer song, which was accompanied by a simultaneous physical pattern, was another example of this overarching query. A cyclical, circular entity with no starting and no ending, and consequently, no leader and no follower.

Framed by a disco ball, each individual brought his or her own unique expressive dance downstage center to a song where the pervasive lyric was that of “follow me.” They played with tempi (sometimes speeding up, sometimes slowing down), choreographic style and genre as well as physical intensity. And a mathematical segment brought patterning and repetition to the table, though it was a bit on the long side and its connection to the whole of the work was a little lost on me.

Near the end of Moses(es), cannoned movement sequences recurred, with the performers staggering the start of various choreographic phrases. The water imagery from the beginning also made another appearance with arms and legs swimming through the space, and the company once more pointing along the horizon. And in a fantastic cadence, Wilson asked the audience to join in with some of the singing and vocalizing right near the end of the work, engaging with the audience and again, breaking the barrier between viewer and performer.     

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Dance Theatre of San Francisco

Dance Theatre of San Francisco
Juliann Witt and Allie Papazian
Photo RJ Muna
The Fall Program – Season Five
September 22nd, 2017
Cowell Theater, San Francisco

If there’s one thing that stays with you after a performance by Dance Theatre of San Francisco, it’s the company’s extraordinary artistic rigor – rigorous choreographic innovation, rigorous communication and interpretation of that choreography, rigorous technique, rigorous phrase material. On Friday evening, the much-lauded DTSF opened its 2017 Fall program, marking five years of contemporary artmaking, under the Artistic Direction of Dexandro D. Montalvo since 2015. With this mixed repertory fall program, DTSF confirms that the buzz in the dance community about their work is spot on. This is a company you need to see.  

The evening began with Montalvo’s Coovy-Two, a world premiere solo danced by Cooper Neely. Positional clarity combined with legato phrases; fluidity and precision concurrently flowed through the space. With locking isolations, open stances in 2nd and 4th positions, jazz influences, martial arts inspired movement, and even a textbook grand plié in 5th, Montalvo’s choreographic vocabulary was the epitome of dynamic. And Neely was absolute perfection – what a strong opening to DTSF’s fall home season.

Next up was the one piece on the program from a guest choreographer, the world premiere of Angela Dice Nguyen’s Lady in Waiting, a quartet for the four women of the company. With gorgeous costumes reminiscent of the classic Isadora Duncan tunic (design by DTSF company dancer Christopher Dunn), clarity of shape, intention and position again reigned supreme, whether in a large pose, an extension, a simple hand gesture, an off-balance promenade or intense bicep shaking. Even as the dancers walked from one place to another, their focus was so striking, not one moment of ambiguity. My sense was that there was a narrative fiber running through Lady in Waiting, with instances of lightness and joy alongside more serious, somber moments. But it was the specificity of the movement and physicality, both in the choreography and in the dancers’ performances, that drew me in. Closing the first half was the only returning piece on the program, Montalvo’s Impulse from 2014. A charging beat framed the luscious quartet for DTSF’s four men. Again the intense choreographic breadth sang from the stage – equal parts serpentine legato sequences and percussive staccato work. And the way that these two states were crafted together was something to behold. It was like a stream of physical consciousness that compelled attention. Your view was fixed on the stage, not wanting to miss a single detail. Each millisecond of the dance was that special.

Following intermission came the final world premiere on the program, Montalvo’s Broke(n), an ensemble work for the entire DTSF company, and one that existed in the beautiful in between spaces, a physical essay of haunting extremes. Very dramatic right from the start, one dancer is lovingly presented with a rose only to have it snatched away by another. Then, the entire cast erupted into a theatrical wonderland, dancing with expanse to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, their purposely pasted-on smiles masking what was underneath. Then the music shifted from the ‘putting on a happy face’ vibe to one of anguish, and a motif of the hands covering the eyes was introduced, one that would recur throughout Broke(n). Mid-way through the work, one dancer cycled through a lengthy solo while seated on a chair, signaling restrictions and constraints. Slowly, the rest of the performers brought their chairs to join him in a collective expression of camaraderie. Eventually the choreographic statement moved off the chairs and into the main space as the original soloist watched with a distinct sadness. The extremes continued, the hands over the face recurring as well as the notion of collectiveness, this time expressed through group embraces. And at the end of the work, the rose is again taken away from the very first dancer, who subsequently begins to pick up flower petals that had been strewn around the stage. While the whole may have still been elusive, there were parts of the whole that were available and present.  

With such specificity on stage (even the bows after each work were so clear and defined), it was a little surprising that some of the program’s format logistics were a bit off – a very late start and a major lag between the first and second pieces, though no one was changing costumes and there was no alteration to the stage environment. In addition, there was no announcement saying that the curtain was being held or notes in the program to expect a significant pause between works (though important to say that the transition between Lady in Waiting and Impulse was very quick). These observations may seem pedantic and picky, and perhaps they are. And I’m the first to admit that delays are a personal pet peeve of mine. But when presenting concert dance, these details matter. And they matter, not because they take away from any of the choreography or the performances, but because they affect the overall flow of the entire program.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Alyssandra Katherine Dance Project

Alyssandra Katherine Dance Project
AKDP's Kelsey Gerber
Photo Kofi Kumi, Amoa Photography
Brace Forward
ODC Theater, San Francisco
Aug 18th-19th, 2017
(the following review is based on a video of the performance)

Six dancers explored the ODC space, walking with equal parts ease and determination. Each appeared to be on their own individual circuit, though occasionally, would meet. Some of these interactions took the shape of a simple circular pattern while others were more complex – one body leaning forwards or backwards in space, while another took that weight and rebounded it back to standing. The scene felt task-based and the movement, familiar and accessible.

These were the opening moments of Obstruct & Connect, by choreographer Alyssandra Katherine Wu and danced by the Alyssandra Katherine Dance Project (AKDP) this past summer at ODC Theater. A mixed repertory quadruple bill, the program, entitled Brace Forward, joined three works by AKDP with a special offering by guest choreographer Carly Lave.

As Obstruct & Connect continued, the walking pathways gave way to a duet downstage right. While a video projection (by Clare Schweitzer) framed the action, the falling and catching motif repeated, accumulating force, speed and intensity. Then an entirely different duet emerged, still holding the weight of the body as its foundation, but with much fuller, lush choreographic material. This eventually grew into a full ensemble statement of athletic, through-expressed physicality: large extensions and level changes, all informed by a sense of suspension and release. The solos, duets and trios that followed built on this choreographic foundation, adding in unexpected acrobatic walkovers and impressive dives and falls.

The program notes for Obstruct & Connect share with the viewer a question that was at the heart of the piece, “what happens to a contact dance when one or more partners stop the conversation by only giving weight rather than receiving?” This study of weight was very apparent in Obstruct & Connect; a highly successful communication in both the choreographic intention and in the company’s sharing of the work. Having said that, I find it a challenge to understand improvisational practices and formal, structural inquiries around improvisational practices within a performative container. Not particularly in this work, but more in general. I’m not saying that they don’t fit together, not at all. But the relationship and conversation feels very blurry to me. Certainly something to keep thinking about, and Obstruct & Connect provides another opportunity to consider.

Another Time was up next on the Brace Forward program, a narrative-inspired, mixed discipline work that, with its strong creative contrast to Obstruct & Connect, demonstrated Wu’s artistic breadth. A montage of family photos (video again by Schweitzer) unfolded on the back screen. A soloist, Ying-Ting Hsu (Gama), sprang from one pool of light to another around the stage, each instance introducing a distinct physical idea and emotional charge. With blackouts in between, this opening sequence felt just like the photomontage – glimpses of one moment in time. And as the lights rose fully, the choreography similarly whipped around the theater.

Next, the video morphed into images of Hsu dancing amidst natural environments, and she responded to those images, slowly bending her upper body backwards in space until it reached the ground. While Hsu remained in this posture, the text of an oral history conversation took over as Another Time’s score, telling of a deeply personal life journey. Hsu’s legs walked and swam through the air, moving from one attitude to another, as gripping words spoke of unimaginable circumstances. Slow, meditative gestures brought Hsu back to standing, her sweeping legs and swinging arms intimating defense and running. And so striking was the fact that the choreography was not interpreting the text, but instead responding and reacting to it, and as the audience, you began to realize that this kind of real-time dialogue (between movement and sound, between movement and video, between movement and light) is what had been happening all along. Such an astonishing performance by Hsu, not only in terms of narrative depth and technical acumen, but also in stamina…conquering a sixteen-minute solo is quite an accomplishment.

Lave’s Mimesis also brought a narrative slant to the Brace Forward program, though from a more conceptual and deconstructed perspective. Her program notes say this, “Mimesis explores forms of imitation and representation through the politicized site of the female body.” The ten-minute trio, danced by Brianna Torres, Jane Selna and Madison Doyle aptly reflected that intention. The incredibly fluid movements and seamless transitions in the work cannot be ignored, though what spoke most in the choreography was its externality. In line with outside, imposed perceptions, expectations and assumptions, Mimesis’ phrase material came from that same place – external impulses. From the first long arabesque extension that went so far out in space it had no choice but to flex into an attitude to the subtle port de bras to the use of wide second position in plié to the rolling spines, the vocabulary was a reaction to external stimuli. An outside force attacking the solarplexus brought on falls; the performers violently brushed their thigh muscles, ridding themselves of a controlling obstacle or barrier.

If Obstruct & Connect was about structural composition queries while Another Time and Mimesis focused on narrative connective tissue, the final piece on the Brace Forward program was all about the movement, pure physicality. Wu’s Glass Ceiling paired pedestrianism, tasks, gestures, athletics, partnering and even martial arts-inspired steps with her penetrating contemporary choreography. Each of the six dancers appeared to take a turn as the constant in the piece, taking the jump rope located upstage and with it, providing a metronome-like measure, almost like a heartbeat. In the main stage space, the ensemble would cycle through the vast variety of movement styles and genres. And Wu mined these styles with additionally attention to different tempi – from the allegro of the first floorwork solo phrase to the slow controlled adagio of the later cluster formations.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

PORT

FACT/SF and LACDC present
PORT
ODC Theater, San Francisco
September 15th, 2017

Contemporary creators have innovation in their blood, constantly pushing and testing the artistic landscape. Whether through choreographic language, performance sites, collaborative devices, technological elements, narrative content or structural form, they mine for newness over and over again. FACT/SF has long been part of that tradition, committed to growth, new approaches to physicality and transforming the notion of performance. In addition, the company, led by Artistic Director Charles Slender-White is a pioneer in arts programming, seeking to identify the needs of artists and of the field, and working to develop and create series and residencies that respond. They championed JuMP, Just Make A Piece, encouraging choreographers to do just that, create work without constraints or expectations. And this past weekend saw the debut of another landmark project, a joint venture between FACT/SF and LACDC, LA Contemporary Dance Company, under the Artistic Direction of Genevieve Carson. PORT, or Peer Organized Regional Touring, is a brand new platform, hoping to make touring more of a reality for small/mid-sized dance companies and encourage artistic dialogue between regions. PORT’s inaugural edition features shared quadruple bills in both San Francisco and Los Angeles (at LA Theatre Center) during the month of September.

FACT/SF's Michaela Burns
Photo Kegan Marling
All four of the works on the San Francisco program at ODC Theater were premieres, two world premieres from FACT/SF and two San Francisco premieres by LACDC. In the first and third pieces of the evening - an(n)a.07, a solo choreographed and danced by Slender-White, and excerpts from Carson’s Stimulaze – the relationship between music and movement was paramount. As the lights slowly rose on an(n)a.07, J.S. Bach’s complex contrapuntal sound penetrated the space. Slender-White began a short movement motif, which eventually grew and developed, accumulating more and more intricate phrase material. There were moments of charged stillness, coupled with intensely strong technical positions (a deep lunge in fourth position) and living postures, including a phenomenal grand plié, also in fourth. Bach’s fugues and inventions have certain structural elements present – a subject, sometimes referred to as the theme, answers and countersubjects – all of which are woven together to create one large, cohesive compositional statement. In an(n)a.07, a title which aptly includes the name of Bach’s wife, Slender-White was brilliantly demonstrating how present-day live choreographic material can act as one of these structural elements - a relevant, contributing independent/interdependent voice, conversing in real-time with a score composed hundreds of years prior. 

Carson’s quartet, Stimulaze, also began with the music of the Baroque master, J.S. Bach, and again, we witnessed an artistic back and forth, though here it was between four dancers performing different strands of movement. In Carson’s theatrical container, the quartet overlapped and intersected, and while each choreographic idea was distinct, all shared an incredible fluidity and legato intention. Very much like the score. Then things shifted. The four dancers began purposely bumping shoulders, pulling and pushing each other backward and forward in space. And the music morphed as well, this time into work by W.A. Mozart, a composer synonymous with 18th century classicism, where music composition was very much about following specific rules, formulas and formats. In this part of Stimulaze, the choreography was acting against that structure. The dancers were playing a game of will, exertion and control (and a humorous one at that), refusing to ‘stay in their lane’. Stimulaze’s juxtaposition of movement working with the music and then conversely working in opposition to it was extremely satisfying.

The remaining two works, EBBA (LACDC) and Remains (FACT/SF) took the audience on a journey, a descent into the mysterious land of the deconstructed narrative. Neither told a linear story, but both were very clearly steeped in and inspired by the human condition.

LACDC's Drea Sobke and Ashlee Merritt in EBBA
Photo Taso Papadakis
A pounding, vibrating bass line shook the entire theater as the LACDC dance artists entered one by one from opposites sides of the stage for EBBA. They toggled between stretchy, undulating slow motion positions and quick, traveling, transitional steps. An animalistic-like growl was layered into the score, similarly mirrored in many of the choreographic postures. Forceful dynamic changes and jazz-based phrase material leapt from the stage, the movement creating an atmospheric sense of purposeful uncertainty and insecurity. And there was a very clear extreme being explored – that of the individual and the collective. At the beginning of the piece, it felt like each dancer in the eight-member female ensemble was navigating their surroundings on their own. Inhabiting the same space as others, but not with any kind of kinship. As EBBA progressed, this isolation and lone-ness was replaced by a sense of the group, of the collective. Speaking of the group, the LACDC company dancers had excellent spatial awareness, able to be completely in the moment, fully committed to the movement with no collisions. And they were able to do so without making the ODC stage look crowded. The only challenge in the piece was the score, or more specifically the booming bass pulse in the score. It might have just been the size of the theater, but everything was shaking pretty intensely for almost the entire dance, and it did distract a little from what was happening visually.

Six FACT/SF company dancers made their way to the stage, each carrying a plastic 3D shell mannequin figure of themselves. Once these shells had been distributed around the space, the ensemble made their way to upstage right to begin Remains’ first movement phrase – a choreographic expression of sweeping arms and legs told along a circuitous path. As they arrived in place, the mood radically changed. Slow contorted motions and screeching vocal sounds unfolded; the theme of anguish ringing clear. Structurally, Remains channeled repetition and accumulation devices, with highly physical motifs overlaying each other. And for a good portion of the work, the cast faced the back of the stage. This facing brought egalitarianism into the picture – the dancers could have been anyone. Mid-way through Remains, the performers squirmed on the floor trying desperately to make it to a seated position on a chair. Once they finally accomplished this task, they violently fell to the floor with percussive and rhythmic full body physicality. And they would try again, make it, and then lose once more; succeeding and falling, succeeding and falling, succeeding and falling. This was interspersed with a clock-like shaking of the head, in a ‘no’ attitude. The shells would come back toward the end of the dance, in a nurturing, protective sequence, complete with LED lights that were breathed into the structures. But for me, it was the chair sequence that felt the essence of Remains. The continual up and down signaling the never-ending, relentless cycle of human emotion and the blindsiding power of grief and angst. 


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Preview - No Strings Attached Dance Company

Dante Alabastro and Alyse Romano in Edifice: Breaking Walls
Photo: Lissa Resnick
A Busy Fall For No Strings Attached Dance Company

Developed as part of the Resident Artist Workshop (RAW) program at SAFEhouse Arts in 2017, Edifice: Breaking Walls is all about asking questions. From challenging the perimeters of performance spaces to upending the relationship between performer and audience to expanding and deepening collaborative processes, Edifice seeks after new understanding. Textural dimensions abound throughout. Natural materials like wool, fiber, paper, canvas and cloth interact with texturally diverse choreography. Delicate petit allegro – wispy glissades, sissones, pas de chats and beaten jetés – meet task-based, gestural phrases and pedestrian running. Turned out extensions are broken into flexion by the lightest, most subtle impulse. Dancers on pointe and dancers in flat shoes perform side by side. And the partnering sequences toggle between traditional pas de deux and unconventional points of contact, like the top of the head.

As the lights rose on Type None, performed at West Wave Dance Festival 25 last September at Z Space, a young boy sits at a table stage right demonstrating the procedures associated with insulin injections – a tedious, painful, relentless reality of life with diabetes. On the other side, a male dancer turns in repeated fouettés before moving about the stage in an expansive, lush solo full of extensions, spins and batterie. Voices of children affected by the disease ring through the air as solos, duets, trios and full ensemble statements unfold. Early on, the boy rises from his chair, joining in a repeated port de bras sequence. Later he pushes and pulls the dancers out of the way, exerting will and control. At other moments, he sits center stage, silent and still, mesmerized by the movement. Is he watching a representation of the cells within his body? Is he imagining freedom from constraint? Is he picturing himself at different points in his life?     

While two very distinct dance works, Edifice: Breaking Walls and Type None share a number of commonalities. Each performance work is informed by curiosity and discovery, a deep desire to look beyond held assumptions through rigorous creative exploration. Both will have another life this coming fall, at separate events the weekend of October 13th-15th. And they are both conceived and composed by choreographer Lissa Resnick, Artistic Director of No Strings Attached Dance Company.

A serious ballet student from a young age, Resnick spent summers at Joffrey, Sacramento Ballet and San Francisco Ballet and was invited to attend the full-time pre-professional program at SFB, an intense schedule of classes, workshops, rehearsals and performances. While fully committed to this demanding course of study, at the same time, Resnick was aware that the total immersion-ness of pre-professional life was somewhat limiting, at least for her. After being sidelined with an injury, she, like many dance students, began to feel a pull toward other interests, other pathways, particularly to math and science for which she had always had a passion. And so, Resnick shifted gears away from full-time ballet and enrolled in UC Davis, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree.

While these undergraduate years signaled a break from pointe work, dance was still part of the picture. In fact, Resnick used this time to investigate different forms of movement and physicality, eventually joining Bonnie Simoa Contemporary Dance Company (which was affiliated with UC Davis), under the direction of Bonnie Simoa. This foray into contemporary dance would be a formative period, as it would continue to influence and be present in Resnick’s artistic journey.

Fast-forward a number of years. Following a longer break from dance, Resnick found herself in LA, and noticed a yearning to get back into the dance community. “I was missing dance, but now I felt more of a draw to choreography,” remembers Resnick, “I was fascinated with the notion of looking at the world and making my own work, birthing something.” To that end, she began performing as a guest dance artist for various projects in LA while simultaneously founding No Strings Attached Dance Company, a platform where she could experiment with all kinds of genres, including tapping into her long-term relationship with ballet. “Ballet is part of my origin story, like a native language,” she adds, “but at the same time, I didn’t want to fit into any particular mold; I wanted to be more open and try to get outside of that rigorous training background.” Vocabulary-wise, that meant that creating her own choreographic signature, certainly ballet-based but also pulling from a number of other forms. Structurally, Resnick wanted to examine alternate theatrical containers/spaces and work in a collaborative environment, “I became very interested in looking beyond the proscenium, linking different artforms and site specific work; the concept of bringing art off the walls and off the typical stage.” And so, she sought after performance opportunities out-of-doors and in galleries, attracted to mixed discipline projects with dance, theater, opera and visual art. A few years later, Resnick relocated back to the Bay Area. She continued guesting with companies like Dance Lumiere as well as crafting new work with No Strings Attached. “The dancers inspire me, I fall in love with them again with each project, and I’m continually inspired by other artists, visual creators and musicians,” Resnick shares, “and at another level, I want to unravel mysteries of things we think we understand, particularly when it comes to the complexities of medical science and research.”

Matthew Doolin and Curtis Resnick
in Type None
Photo: Lorelei Voorsanger Ghanizadeh
Type None directly lives into that desire, a work that brings the medical and performing arts communities together. Created in partnership with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the ensemble piece for eight dancers and one youth actor is a personal one for Resnick. “A couple of years ago, my son was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and Type None is about caring for a child with chronic illness,” she shares, “the JDRF really stepped up and supported me through this process.” A big effort over the past year (it premiered at West Wave in 2016), No Strings Attached will be performing an excerpt from Type None at the upcoming Juvenile Diabetes One Walk, East Bay, being held on Sunday, October 15th in San Ramon.

On the Friday before (October 13th) at Coffee Shop in Lafayette, No Strings Attached will be making another appearance in the East Bay, dancing Edifice: Uncovered as part of the inaugural Art Moves Project. Resnick is wearing multiple hats for this event, both as a co-founder of the organization and as a commissioned artist. “Art Moves looks at bringing more progressive movement and dance into the community, engaging with and reaching out to the audience,” Resnick explains, “it’s a public art initiative that will have multiple locations in Lafayette, right in the hub of the downtown walking areas.” After receiving an initial grant from the Lafayette Community Foundation, Art Moves Project commissioned their first creative endeavor, Edifice: Uncovered, a collaboration between Resnick and visual performance artist Marcia Barrow Taylor. For this next chapter in the Edifice story, Resnick is contemplating the question of “what lies beneath the surface; what’s inside.” In addition, the piece is taking Resnick outside of her comfort zone. Though informed by the primary question above, Edifice: Uncovered delves more into the abstract side of dancemaking, in terms of form, structure and composition, and away from traditional storytelling. With No Strings Attached’s strong commitment to mining the unknown, it is no surprise that Resnick is venturing into this new terrain with Edifice: Uncovered.

After this very busy October, No Strings Attached will be gearing up for an equally packed late Fall/early Winter. Resnick has been invited to create something new for the next edition of Works in the Works, to be held this November at Western Sky Studio on 8th Street in West Berkeley. Then, they are thrilled to once again be participating in the annual San Francisco Movement Arts Festival at Grace Cathedral in January of 2018. The repertory selection for the festival is still in process, though Resnick is considering re-envisioning a duet based on Hindu love poems, “the first iteration of the duet was developed back in 2012 and since then, it has been excerpted a number of times,” notes Resnick, “it has infusions of classical Indian dance vocabulary and its main theme is temptation.”

For more information, please visit http://lissaresnick.com/

*this article is coordinated by San Francisco Movement Arts Festival 

Monday, July 24, 2017

SKETCH 7 - "Wandering"

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery presents
SKETCH 7 – Wandering
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
July 22nd, 2017

The seasons evocatively converged over the weekend as Amy Seiwert’s Imagery presented SKETCH 7 – Wandering at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. It was a beautiful warm summer weekend, especially by SF standards, but on stage, it was all winter, Franz Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle to be exact. Twenty-four separate songs with poetry by Wilhelm Müller, the score shares the story of a protagonist on a ‘winter’s journey’ (Winterreise translated), trekking through a natural environment, encountering a myriad of forces and searching for contentment. This was the source material that fueled Amy Seiwert’s new ballet for the seventh edition of Imagery’s SKETCH series.

SKETCH is designed to challenge choreographic patterns and processes. True to form, Artistic Director Seiwert posed a mammoth puzzle for 2017’s edition, something that was new for her – choreograph a full-length, narrative dance. Wandering is the result of that experiment. A two-act ballet where piano, voice, text and choreography unfold together in a parable about humanity’s quest for happiness.

As the company waited in the dark, only dim lanterns peppering the space, James Gilmer walked slowly onstage from one of the right wings. He placed a record on the record player and gently lifted the needle. Having completed this task, he walked towards the other seven dancers and instantly, Wandering was off.

Right from the start, a number of thematic and theatrical elements emerged that would inform Wandering until its final blackout. First was a long red coat. This coat was integral to the work, because it signaled who was embodying the protagonist role at any given moment. All eight of the Imagery artists would don this piece of clothing throughout the performance, each of them having a chance to experience the central character. And sometimes, taking on that responsibility was welcome, sometimes it was reluctant, sometimes it was even indignant and forced. Next was a palpable and conflictual pull both towards the group and against the group. Seiwert created a glowing choreographic container that examined both extremes – a real conversation between lone-ness and togetherness; seclusion and community. An atmosphere of sorrow and isolation leapt from the stage but at the same time, the dancers seemed pulled towards each other like magnets. Last was a specific choreographic point of articulation: the head. Hands would lead the chin, heads would lean on each other, palms would encircle the skull, and eyes would stare potently, looking for answers. This treatment of the head particularly stood out, not just because of its cerebral quality, but because when you walk, surprisingly, it is the head that moves first, not your feet. And with Wandering being about a journey, an emphasis on the head, and leading of the head, spoke volumes.

Shania Rasmussen, Gabriel Gaffney-Smith, Ben Needham-Wood,
Jackie Nash and Alysia Chang
Photo: Chris Hardy
But there were even more noteworthy elements in Wandering that deserve mention. Seiwert’s extraordinary treatment of ballet vocabulary surprises, delights and continues to astonish at every turn. It’s not just injecting a flexed foot here and there or experiencing a step on demi-pointe instead of full pointe. Seiwert mines further, delving into what a flexed foot can do as a transitional movement in lifts and promenades, or how a reaching extension suddenly broken by flexion makes a narrative statement. Pencil turns on pointe also entered the vernacular, as did arms exploring through the space and lifts breathtakingly ascending from the floor. Every Imagery dance artist excelled in both technique and artistry. And such silent jumping! Especially impressive was the Act II pas de deux by Jackie Nash and Ben Needham-Wood, which was technically a pas de trois, with Needham-Wood managing to effortlessly hold one of the lanterns for the duration of the duet.

Susan Roemer’s costuming was another example of true inspiration. Of course there was the red coat/protagonist connection, but that was only one part. Act I’s short unitards oozed winter with their snow-white base and tree branch motifs curving around the torso. And then in Act II, the unitard colors switched, perhaps indicating that the journey had moved into night. Near the end of Act I, it started gently ‘snowing’ onstage, and the effect was quite something (light and scenic design by Brian Jones) – it really felt cold in the theater. And just like with Roemer’s costumes, in Act II, the fallen snow turned black, again likely alluding to darkness, or perhaps a darker portion of the protagonist’s journey.

Soon, Imagery’s Wandering heads to New York for the Joyce Theater Ballet Festival (the piece was supported by the Joyce Theater Foundation). While I won’t get a chance to see that performance, I do wonder what the dance will be like on a different stage. The Cowell Theater is an intimate space, to be sure, and while it didn’t ever look crowded (even when all eight dancers were onstage), it would be fascinating to view it in a different venue.
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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Joe Goode Performance Group

Joe Goode Performance Group
30th Anniversary Season
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
June 23rd, 2017

Before heading to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater to catch Joe Goode Performance Group’s thirtieth anniversary program, I decided to look up the gifts that have historically marked three decades. My search yielded two primary results – pearl (traditional) and diamond (modern). So then, I started to list some common descriptors for these two stones. Pearl brought to mind things like rare, smooth and timeless, whereas diamond conjured strength, sparkle and faceted. And with diamonds, there was also the additional characteristic, as an oft symbol of long-term commitment – certainly apt considering that the evening commemorated thirty years of Artistic Director Joe Goode’s creative innovation and boundary-pushing art. All of these properties and qualities were present in Friday night’s winsome bill, the first half comprised of excerpts from four past works (2004’s Grace, 2011’s Rambler, 2009’s Wonderboy and 1991’s Remembering the Pool at the Best Western) followed by the company’s newest endeavor, Nobody Lives Here Now.

When I think of the term rare, the synonyms distinct and unique also immediately pop up, and each offering on the program lived into those words. From the intense physicality of Grace to the vocally driven Rambler to the puppetry and storytelling in Wonderboy to the realm straddling, emotionally charged Remembering the Pool at the Best Western to the dance theater opus Nobody Lives Here Now, each piece distinguished itself as rare and exceptional. The transitions between the first four excerpts were the epitome of smooth – one morphed into the next with care and attention, never an abrupt halt or jarring shift. And in terms of being timeless, all five performance works on the program revealed ‘timeless narratives’, themes that transcend a specific point in time, and so, can always speak to audiences. Relatable human experiences like being pulled in different directions, feeling isolated, loss, grief and personal identity. A pearl of a program indeed.

Strength read throughout each chapter of the night, though two examples in particular stood out. Marit Brook-Kothlow, Andrew Ward and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello’s opening trio from Grace was one such moment. An incredibly technical excerpt with shape-based, clearly defined movement, Grace was forceful and powerful. The partnering between the three dancers was dynamically acrobatic, and at one point, in a cantilevered balance, Brook-Kothlow seemed to effortlessly swim above Ward and Barrueto-Cabello. In Wonderboy, the men’s choreographic section provided a different take on strength. Again, Goode’s phrase material was specific and vibrant, yet in each connection between the four men (Barrueto-Cabello, Melecio Estrella, James Graham and Ward), a nurture and openness was so present and palpable. Here was strength shown through vulnerability and trust. Sparkle definitely made its appearance in the program too, specifically in the make-up and costume design for Nobody Lives Here Now.

Last, moving onto faceted…or perhaps multi-faceted is the better term. In Rambler, linguistics, gender stereotypes and social norms converge, through movement and text and within a decidedly humorous Western/cowboy container. And the text was treated (at least in this excerpt) in two different ways, through Patricia West’s spoken soliloquy and through Goode’s song, both cloaked in extremes and alluding to the connective narrative tissue. Remembering the Pool at the Best Western brought characterization and choreography to the table (figuratively and literally as Goode is seated at a kitchen table for the majority of the excerpt) as well as a meeting of gesture and language. All of these facets work together to help share a somber narrative, one that is a curiosity about death, and is seeking a connection with those who have passed into another realm of being.

Felipe Barrueto-Cabello, Andrew Ward & Marit Brook-Kothlow in
Nobody Lives Here Now
Photo RJ Muna
And now onto the most multi-faceted work on the program, Nobody Lives Here Now. This dance theater piece had about every theatrical device that one could imagine – videography, text script, props, costume, make-up, lighting design, gesture, mirroring, sets, characters, scenework, purposeful absurdity, humor as well as compositional repetition and exaggeration. Live music, performed by the Thalea String Quartet, scores the entire work and in addition to all of these elements, Nobody Lives Here Now has profound and vital messages - gender fluidity, the prevalence of labels, living fully into the self, and at the end, aging – all explored through narrative abstraction. Nobody Lives Here Now invites its audience into a magical sphere, using the world of illusion, spectacle and grandeur as an artistic allegory for metamorphosis and change. It’s entertaining, engaging (a most enthusiastic standing ovation greeted the cast at its conclusion) and very layered. But like a layer cake, the more layers you add, the chance that the cake might lean increases, and that’s what happened a little here. There was so much going on onstage that the deep, weighty and important narrative fibers got lost a bit, at least for me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Amy Foley's Bellwether Dance Project - SPF10

Bellwether Dance Project examines judgment and disparity in Thighs and Wages
As part of next month’s Summer Performance Festival (SPF10)
Presented by SAFEhouse Arts
Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco – July 6th–16th 

Bellwether Dance Project in Thighs and Wages
Photo Jane Hu
Dramatic directional shifts. Living poses and postures. Vast use of second and fourth positions in plié and in extension; a reflection of chasms and gaps. Technically intricate phrase material that is simultaneously expressive, risky and surprising. Unison, canon and partnering. Diverse physical vocabulary: turned out attitude and fouetté jumps, pedestrian running, parallel assemblés, task-based gestural sequences, contorted runway walks and solar plexuses lifting in a high upper body arch. Compositional repetition acting as both an emphasis and an anesthetic. Picturesque vignettes that speak of camaraderie and shared experience contrasted with challenging tableaux of manipulation, dismissal and control.

All these choreographic states and more await in Bellwether Dance Project’s Thighs and Wages, an ensemble work where contemporary performance and narrative abstraction evolve and converge. Conceived by Bellwether Dance Project’s Artistic Director Amy Foley, Thighs and Wages takes the stage in early July as part of the tenth annual SAFEhouse Arts Summer Performance Festival (SPF). Every summer, SAFEhouse Director Joe Landini welcomes emerging and established choreographic voices alike to the highly anticipated and eclectic dance event, this year held at the Joe Goode Annex. Bellwether Dance Project is thrilled to be part of 2017’s line-up, sharing a program with Linda Bouchard Multimedia Works.

A lifelong dancer, Foley began taking class at the age of five and continued throughout her childhood and teenage years, particularly pulled towards ballet. And like many serious dance students, sometime in high school she started to contemplate what might come out of these years of training, “I thought, wait, I’m not going to be a professional ballerina, but there must be a place in dance where I fit in.” After taking a brief hiatus from the studio, Foley rediscovered movement at Colorado College, and specifically found a connection with modern dance. “Here, I could use my technique, athleticism and grace, though in a different context, a more grounded one – it felt like home,” she recalls. Fast forward a bit and Foley found herself in San Francisco, with the goal of dancing and performing, and eventually discovered Robert Moses’ class. Within a couple of years, she joined Robert Moses’ KIN and remained a company member for a decade. During this season, Foley also taught and freelanced with other San Francisco dance organizations, like Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and Shift Physical Theater.

After her stint at Robert Moses’ KIN, Foley noticed a new artistic and creative pull within, an itch to start making her own work. Though, at the same time, she didn’t want to abandon the dancer/performer part of her being. So once again, it was time for some penetrating questions, “am I a dancer, am I a choreographer, where should my focus lie?” Like most deep inquiries, Foley found that there wasn’t one answer, and that for her, living into both roads felt right. Still continuing to perform (with ODC, and of late with RAWdance, project.b. and KAMBARA+DANCERS), she also began presenting work in a number of different choreographic outlets: ODC’s Pilot Program, LINES Ballet’s summer intensive, RAWdance’s CONCEPT series, PUSHfest, Robert Moses’ KIN’s By Series and the Dance Mission Choreographic Showcase. Over the past sixteen months, this journey in dancemaking has intensified even further, with the official formation of Foley’s company, Bellwether Dance Project, and more recently, as a Lead Artist at SAFEhouse Arts.

While RAW (Resident Artist Workshop) has been a fixture in the San Francisco choreographic climate for ten years, SAFEhouse’s Lead Artist program is a brand new offshoot. “We decided this year to start moving towards an artist co-op model as a way for SAFEhouse to become more sustainable,” explains Landini, “we invited a group of RAW artists to help us run SAFEhouse in the areas of Production, Marketing, Development and Operations; six of this year’s SPF choreographers are Lead Artists.” Of course, built into the Lead Artist program is space to construct and develop new work as well as several performance opportunities. Foley’s Thighs and Wages is one of the resulting dances from her time in this creative, exploratory environment.

Bellwether Dance Project in Thighs and Wages
Photo Jane Hu
While not a linear story, Thighs and Wages has a powerful narrative and conceptual foundation. “The piece considers and alludes to the ways that women are scrutinized and objectified; how turning someone into an object lessens their humanness,” Foley shares, “and without suggesting any answer or resolution, it challenges the viewer to contemplate the ramifications and outcomes of this objectification – abuse, violence or training women in self-doubt.” A twenty-minute work for five women, Thighs and Wages saw its premiere in November of 2016 at SAFEhouse. “I was really happy with the first showing back in November; it went well, and it also made me realize that I wanted to delve deeper into Thighs and Wages,” adds Foley. With the upcoming July performances in SPF10, she is doing just that, once again is diving into this narrative, contemporary choreography.

Re-visiting any type of project brings with it such great opportunities – the chance to create new material, to edit and adjust existing parts and the occasion to possibly work with new collaborators. All of these hold true for Foley’s next iteration of Thighs and Wages. “I’m expanding the piece and creating some new ideas as well as changing some of the overall structure and phrases,” Foley describes, “and four of the five dancers are new, so it’s exciting to experience their individualism, creativity and different ways of moving in the work.” Dancers in the original cast of Thighs and Wages were Kaitlyn Ebert, Jackie Goneconti Gibbons, Emeline Le Thiec, Jane Selna and Maggie Stack, all of who also performed the work in January as part of the San Francisco Movement Arts Festival. Stack will be returning for SPF10 and will be joined by Marlie Couto, Liza Kroeschell, Courtney Mazeika and Katerina Wong.

As the SPF10 performances near (just a mere two weeks away), Foley is eager to present the next version of Thighs and Wages, this time in a new space and with a new quintet of dance artists. And she is also keen to share the piece with viewers who may be familiar with the work and those who are encountering it for the first time, “I hope the audience feels moved, whether touched, angry, sad or something else altogether; that they feel something is very important to me.”

Bellwether Dance Project in Thighs and Wages - Thurs, July 6th at 8:00pm and Sat, July 8th at 8:00pm.

*this article is sponsored by San Francisco Movement Arts Festival

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Monday, June 12, 2017

ChoreoFest 2017

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
ChoreoFest 2017
Yerba Buena, San Francisco
June 10th, 2017

Many dancemakers take advantage of the summer months to take their work al fresca, offering site-specific performances in alternative, natural settings or on outdoor stages. This is also true in the Bay Area, though outside performances, even summer ones, can be a bit risky in San Francisco – warmer weather and a cooperative climate are never a guarantee, to be sure. That being said, sometimes the stars align and this past weekend at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival was one of those moments. Gorgeous weather, outstanding choreography, and uplifting dancing was on the menu at ChoreoFest 2017, a three-day performing arts event held in and around Yerba Buena, expertly curated by Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein, co-Artistic Directors of RAWdance. I was fortunate to catch the middle offering on Saturday afternoon, featuring three premiere works and one encore from 2016.

Allegra Bautista in RAWdance's Requiem
Photo Hillary Goidell
Opening the program in front of the Contemporary Jewish Museum was RAWdance’s haunting, stunning Requiem, choreographed by Rein, Smith and Katerina Wong. Costumed in navy and wearing black sheer blindfolds, a trio cycled through a slow, meticulous, meditative phrase, with their backs to the audience. A range of small and large movements unfolded - from a single palm rising to the sky to developpés in parallel second to huge grand rond de jambes ending in arabesque. This first statement morphed into a larger ensemble as dancer after dancer walked with purpose and strength into the scene; an openness and calmness surging in every step, almost with a Tai chi like sensibility. Both vulnerability and a deliberate spirit sang through the space as solar plexuses ascended upward. And countertechnique lifts and balances added loft, breath and a community spirit to the work.

While introspectiveness abounded during Requiem, a somber note was also very present, especially as the dancers peered out through the sheer black masks. And the movement contained moments of fracture. Long extensions of the leg would suddenly break at the knee or at the hip and poses would purposefully collapse. But quickly these instances of fracture would morph into something different and choreographically transcend into the expanse. Because I arrived right as the performance was starting, I didn’t read the program notes until after. Only then did I learn that this striking work was titled Requiem, and it was a remembrance for the forty-nine souls violently taken a year ago at Pulse in Orlando. A response, a tribute and also an example of the inherent healing power within dance – if you have a chance to see this work, take it.

The crowd made its way across the street and settled just outside the Yerba Buena Forum space for dawsondancesf’s hold fast to dreams, a new trio from Gregory Dawson. Danced by Erik Debono, Frankie Lee Peterson III and Jacob Williams, the piece started with the three leaning against a sculpture. A series of percussive hand gestures and arm sequences brought the trio away from and back to their starting position, after which they slowly walked down the length of the building until reaching a corner boundary. Some of the first movements recurred in this new place, but this time, growing and developing. Debono, Peterson and Williams hugged the structure, making different points of contact with the driving choreographic phrase material, some partnering, some unison, cluster shapes and even parkour-like leaps. And as the pas de trois continued, a physical essay on perspective and assumptions arose. What happens when a wall becomes the floor? What movement is possible when we flip our expectations? How does choreography read when it is performed against surfaces, rather than being framed or contained by them?

Just outside the Yerba Buena Theater for the Arts was the locale for Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations’ Still Life No. 6, the third premiere on the Saturday afternoon program, choreographed and performed by Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg, with live cello accompaniment by Shanna Sordahl. In brightly colored, long-sleeve, high neck unitards, the pair shared an artistic mélange with the viewer, one combining deep creative process and choreographic specificity. Small reflexive movements repeated in the shoulders, fingertips and bouncing knees. Swinging arms reflected accumulation and diminution compositional devices as well as changes in intensity and dynamics. Attention to detail was everywhere in the excerpted work, be it in directional facings, the axis of the body, the use of stillness, and of course in the gestures and movements themselves. Such clarity and definition in every second, like the difference between the palms lying flat on the ground as opposed to resting on the knuckles.

As Still Life No. 6 reached its last third, Simpson and Stulberg moved away from the central performing square and towards an adjacent wall for a handstand series. Next the duo weaved through the audience, themselves sharing a text excerpt and then inviting audience members to continue with the text while they returned to their original performance space. In the program, there is a note that the work “…draws various elements found in Doris Salcedo’s installation piece Plegaria Muda.” Part of SFMOMA’s collection, this particular piece is a grouping of bench structures with sprouting greenery, arranged throughout a room. You walk through it, deciding how much time to linger in one spot, which benches to view and in what order. And so, there is an opportunity to be immersed within Salcedo’s installation. I felt like a similar immersive experience was evolving in this final section of the dance. And one recurring physical motif throughout Still Life No. 6 had me mesmerized. At several points, Simpson and Stulberg nodded and shook their head, looking to the surface of the ground, and almost charting a path or a line. I wondered, did this represent the greenery growth in Salcedo’s work? Or was it the path that you take when viewing Plegaria Muda? Perhaps it was something entirely different. I’m certainly looking forward to considering these questions again.

For the last piece, we transitioned to the middle of the garden space for The Movemessenger(s) in 2016’s Hummingbird, choreography by Angela Dice Nguyen. A rumbling electronic score with voice text sang through the open air. Into the space, dancers Hien Huynh, Cooper Neely and Linda Phung offered contemporary physical movement, heavily inspired by martial arts vocabulary: giant jumps and dives, sliding on the grass and powerful, deep pliés. With a winning combination of highly athletic choreography and a profoundly tender approach, Hummingbird felt narrative to me. Not linear, but conceptually driven. The notion of a hummingbird was present throughout, with literal motifs, like fluttering, pulsating and vibrating alongside more abstracted flight imagery and partnering. A lovely coupling of groundedness and suspension spanned the dance, which finished with dramatic Limón swings, interspersed with parallel jumps. And while completely coincidental, the low-flying birds that made multiple passes over the performance space during Hummingbird definitely added to the experience.