Monday, October 23, 2017

Dana Lawton Dances

Dance Up Close/East Bay presents
Dana Lawton & Jerry Lin
Photo Rob Kunkle
Dana Lawton Dances
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
October 22nd, 2017

During the month of October, Dance Up Close/East Bay has been in celebration mode, hosting three weekends of performances in honor of a significant milestone – Dana Lawton Dances’ tenth anniversary. Each weekend’s program from the Bay Area-based troupe (a company-in-residence at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center) was distinct with different repertory and different musical collaborators. While I wasn’t able to catch every weekend, closing night was an experience of layered textural depth, marrying a broad, diverse swath of Dana Lawton’s choreography danced by ten company artists, original music by Jon Lawton and lighting design by Linda Baumgardner. The program was structured and curated like an intimate artistic salon, with a series of solo music offerings and dance/music collaborations unfolding in the studio space. Special moments abounded throughout the evening, but I think what struck most is that this is a group of artists who truly delight in one another.

After a rousing, bluesy introductory song by Jon Lawton, a more ephemeral, cascading musical line took over, and Artistic Director Dana Lawton drifted slowly into the room for Why I Looked. With her entire being, she began exploring the space, articulating and intonating every joint and limb – arms rippling, spine arcing in an extreme backbend. As the short solo concluded, she sank into a chair, and turned toward her collaborator (in life and in art); they exchanged a knowing look and the lights fell.

Jon Lawton’s narratively rich lyrics and complex harmonies echoed in between dances and also scored the next five short works, which the company dancers shared with consummate skill and clarity. Original Sin was a scene of extremes, a quartet (Vera Schwegler, Garth Grimball, John McConnville and Michael Armstrong) that paired feelings of enclosure, suspicion and judgment with contrasting, expansive extensions in second position and in attitude. Subtle direction changes and gentle suspension/release movement was explored in Stars, a playful, slightly sly duet (Robin Nasatir and Jennifer Smith). And a highlight of the night was Mystery Meat, a joyful partnered pas de deux performed by Schwegler and Grimball. With its flying circular lifts and whimsical footwork, Mystery Meat truly ate up space, and Grimball’s unbelievable arabesque line seemed to extend from one end of the studio to the other.

An ensemble work (Colin McDowell, Leah Hendrix-Smith, Leah Curran, Schwegler, Grimball, Armstrong, Nasatir and Smith), Ashes took a deep dive into tactile articulation. Arms grasped, heads were supported, hands were held, cheeks lovingly caressed, handfuls of imaginary sand were picked up and then allowed to escape slowly through the fingers. Another standout work, Ashes hypnotized with its captivating attention and awareness. Next, the program pivoted to You’re That Wish, a solo danced by McDowell that felt both deeply introspective and outwardly communicative with choreography ranging from large jet├ęs to hand gestures to task-based motions.

Closing Dana Lawton Dances’ tenth anniversary program was Holding Space, the only work on the bill set to recorded music, danced by the entire company. Each performer entered the studio casually, with no rush, surveying their surroundings with curiosity and pleasure. Though quickly, Holding Space’s high-energy phrase material would take over. Quirky head movements met with sharp, specific arm positions; cannoned sequences were cleverly embedded amidst unison partnering. And there was something so appealing about the style. While certainly contemporary in its choreography and movement vocabulary, Holding Space also had an authentic and genuine courtliness to it. This was a statement of community, of sharing reciprocal respect and admiration.

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