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.

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