Friday, May 24, 2019

Digital Reviews - Spring 2019

2019’s dance season has been jam packed in its first five months – new premieres, restagings and an abundance of innovative collaborations. With the sheer volume of material, it isn’t always possible to see everything in person, so below are two reviews that were generated from video screening.

Kristin Damrow & Company
ran at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – January 31st –February 2nd

Hien Huynh and Allegra Bautista
Photo RJ Muna
Back in 2018, Kristin Damrow & Company took a foray into the architectural world with EAMES, a contemporary dance that mined the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames. A year later, they continued their investigation into line and perspective with Impact, a full-length world premiere informed by another architectural movement, Brutalism. I asked a designer friend of mine for some extra insight on the mid-century form known for massive structures, sharp lines and concrete materials, and he shared this, “the word sells it short; Brutalism has extreme elegance through its heaviness and permanence – these aren’t just big, clumsy blocks.” Over the course of an hour, Impact certainly spoke to this range of properties, qualities and tones.

Impact featured a large cast, five featured soloists and a chorus of ten performing a stream of continuous dance vignettes. With straight lines, quiet arms, wide parallel stances and unwavering stares, the choreography for the corps was often my favorite movement happening on stage. Wonderfully interpreted by the cast and thoughtfully crafted by director/choreographer Kristin Damrow, their militaristic precision and severity felt not only inspired by Brutalist architecture, but a physical embodiment of it. But this wasn’t the only position Impact took with respect to Brutalism. Throughout the work, the different scenes were redolent with an array of moods and textures, some very subtle and gentle. In one moment, the gaze led and rotated the body around its axis while in another, the hand adjusted the slant of a dancer’s chin – both provided a nuanced nod to discernment, perspective and smoothness.

Still more moods were to come as Impact continued. Plenty of confrontational material arose in the different chapters. Performers flung each other across the space and threw one another to the ground; arm wrestling motifs abounded. Angular, marked motions in the spine, arms and legs imbued the phrase material as did a retreating motif of backwards salamander-like crawling. And speaking of the physical vocabulary itself, I thought Damrow’s inclusion of old-school mid-century modern technique - Horton laterals, Limón curves and Graham contractions - was both inspired and brilliant. Looking to movement that was part of the same era as Brutalism brought yet another layer of connection to the table.

Watching a recorded work of course affects the viewership lens in several respects. For example, I imagine that the design elements, both scenic and lighting, were quite profound, considering the dance’s source material. It was just harder to get a feel for them on video. I also had a sense that while Impact was by no means story-based, there was some character study and perhaps some narrative threads running through the work. In particular, Anna Greenberg felt like a monarch reigning over the space in several of the scenes. I wonder if further narrative threads would have been apparent in person.

One element that was not at all affected by the video experience was Aaron M. Gold’s original score. Gold’s composition was truly something to behold, an aural investigation of concrete’s voice. Infused with a gravel-y undercurrent, the sounds and music were stark, cold and detached. And while very complex, the score also had a simplicity and cleanness to it that felt evocative of the complex building material. I will say though, that the dynamics of both the movement and the score were fairly similar throughout the piece, which at close to an hour, made Impact feel a bit on the long side.

Alyssandra Katherine Dance Project
ran at ODC Theater – April 11th-13th

In the spring, Alyssandra Katherine Dance Project unveiled their newest world premiere at ODC Theater, Unraveled, an epic quintet that casts an unflinching, raw lens on addiction. Its wide scope tackles the topical narrative from scientific, medical and personal points of view. It dives deeply into addiction to substances, to people, to behaviors, to achievement, to controlling one’s environment. And it vulnerably brings light to that painful reality of being caught in a destructive pattern, wanting things to change and feeling powerless to break out of the cycle.

Jan-Matthew Sevilla
Photo Kofi Kumi
Conceived and created by Artistic Director Alyssandra Wu, Unraveled utilizes many disciplines in sharing its message - video, text, objects, audio soundscore, music, song (the piece is bookended by an absolutely stunning solo rendition of The Beatles iconic Blackbird) and of course movement. Though I wouldn’t categorize the work as strictly mixed discipline or even Dance Theater. Instead Unraveled reads almost like a dance play, and a great one at that. Choreographic and movement vignettes are layered with and interspersed by theatrical scenework. Text-based chapters are infused with gesture. A narrator, or as she called herself in the work, ‘a guide’, leads the audience through the journey. And throughout, powerful, potent and completely relatable arcs leap from the stage.

Choreographically, Wu delivered a wonderfully broad swath of material – from body percussion to gestural phrases to technically-lush syntax. High throttle physical sections saw the ensemble spinning frenetically and desperately changing levels. Dancers unapologetically pushed each other to the ground and punched their fists into the air. Yet, these tortured motions were also counterpointed with moments of empathy and compassion – duets where support and care were paramount; hands gently offering assistance; unison motions reflecting a shared, common understanding. Another impressive element woven throughout Unraveled was the appearance of ropes, cords and tethers. A direct connection to the title of the dance, these various objects had a profound narrative effect. Whether mooring two dancers together, hanging from the light grid or being strewn about the stage, the sense of being ensnared and caught by an outside force was undeniable.

Because of the interplay between dance episodes and text-based scenes, Unraveled had great variety in dynamics, intensity and atmosphere. So, even though it was close to an hour and fifteen minutes, it didn’t feel overly long. Having said that, the structure was a bit curious. At around the fifty-minute mark (when then was still a good twenty-five minutes to go), there was a very clear break point. A particularly poignant scene had just concluded and the lights went down. When they came back up, the cast had changed costumes, the stage space had transformed, the lighting pattern was altered and there was a much more optimistic/hopeful tone to the work. From this point on, Unraveled mined recovery from addiction. While this last third didn’t feel like a different dance, it definitely felt like a separate part of the overall artistic idea. Perhaps experimenting with an intermission between the two sections, even though the first one is quite a bit longer than the second, would be an interesting exercise.     

No comments: