- Joe Goode Performance Group
Z Space, San Francisco
- Dance Up Close/East Bay presents Stranger Lover Dreamer in “Paul C.’s Homeroom Journal”
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Berkeley
- Sharp & Fine presents “Peter and the Wolf”
ODC Theater, San Francisco
- !FLACC! Co-presented by Piñata Dance Collective & Temescal Art Center
Temescal Art Center, Oakland
October 3. When describing dance performance, I tend to use the verbs ‘reviving’ and ‘restaging’ interchangeably. But actually there is a huge difference between the two. Classical and contemporary companies restage work all the time – there may be a new cast, or it may be in a new space, though for the most part, these are restatements of existing repertoire. Revivals take things a step further. Yes, they may also have a different cast and be on a different stage, but revivals breathe new life into a work. Joe Goode Performance Group’s fall program (presented with Z Space) is a shared program of revivals – two distinct works that are still on an artistic journey.
The evening opened with Goode’s iconic piece from 1987, “29 Effeminate Gestures”, performed by Melecio Estrella. The work begins in striking extremes. Estrella starts in the audience wearing mechanic overalls and a trucker hat. He slowly makes his way onto the stage space where he destroys a chair with a chainsaw. He then moves upstage left, converts the top of his jumpsuit into a belt, and in his newly revealed shimmery purple tube top, begins the circuit of “29 Effeminate Gestures”. While these initial scenes seem opposed, the genius of the work is in their fluidity. As the solo continues, the original set of gestures remains but they are also simultaneously morphed into another state of being. This process is seamless and continuous with no defined moment of transition. It happens right before your eyes yet it is impossible to pinpoint the instants where the experience changes.
An ensemble work, 2008’s “Wonderboy” is a vision of what the present day and future can be, a comment on the space between reality and imagination and a discussion of fear. Under Goode’s Artistic Direction, each of these themes are explored and examined through the eyes of a boy, a puppet created and constructed for this project by collaborating Director of Puppetry, Basil Twist. The concept is cool; the communication is clear and the construction is clever, and it is in this last area that the piece makes one of its most significant achievements.
“Wonderboy” is definitely a narrative tour-de-force, though its structure, form and style speak to the evolving nature of dance theater itself. Goode’s dance theater thinks outside the box with a unique combination of movement, scenework, text, music, humor and depth. And in “Wonderboy”, the absurdity and bizarreness that is typical of many dance theater works is not at play and it is not missed.
Successful dance theater should not be defined by a list of characteristics and tenets, but by the trajectory of each individual work and “Wonderboy” bravely marks its own path. On the whole, the piece was very dance-y, and that was terrific – Goode’s movement vocabulary and choreography is compelling and the dancers are phenomenal. But, the many choreographic segments were very alike. This entire group also has an incredible (and rare) musical talent, which rightly finds its way into much of the company’s work, including “Wonderboy”. But the musical interjections are starting to blend together. From one piece to the next, it’s the same harmonies, the same vocal tone, the same dynamics, the same tempi, and so how the music relates to each specific piece is getting a little lost.
October 5. A recent conversation has me thinking about viewership. How do we see dance? What do we look for? What moves us in performance? Are we more interested in conceptual themes or in form, structure and functionality? I tend towards content – I like to try and figure out what a piece is about and look for narrative implications in the movement. It’s not that I don’t recognize structure, but it doesn’t speak to me in the same way that story does. So I decided to do an experiment – begin by approaching a piece from a formal perspective, and see where it leads. What I learned is when you look at the structure, form and function of a contemporary performance work, a host of discoveries abound, even a few narrative revelations.
“Paul C.’s Homeroom Journal”, a new ensemble work by Stranger Lover Dreamer, takes its audience on a journey back to the odd, glorious microcosm that is high school. Inspired by a found, anonymous journal (the author is simply referred to as Paul C.), this contemporary dance collective (led by Andrew Merrell, Elizebeth Randall and Shaunna Vella) has crafted an evening-length, site-specific, mobile work that is incredibly entertaining, with a perfect mix of depth and humor.
The first triumph of this piece is in its setting – Shawl-Anderson Dance Center had truly been transformed. The lobby became a high school hallway on the first day of a new school year. The cast mingled with the audience; the Principal was keeping order; music was playing; photos were happening. Following the homeroom introduction, the audience was divided and led through multiple different spaces – my group’s schedule was homeroom, gym class, art and then finally assembly. Each individual studio was thoughtfully and appropriately outfitted with posters, trophies, school supplies and in the main room, an old-school overhead projector. To kick things off, we were each given our own journal, and an assignment from the Principal. Consider three questions and jot down thoughts, comments and responses: who do we think we are; how do others perceive us and who do we want to become. The setting was nothing short of perfection.
Onto structure, form and functionality. “Paul C.’s Homeroom Journal” was like a living diary; a collection of vignettes and dances. Each was introduced with a date and a short verbal statement (from Paul C.’s journal), and they occurred in random, rather than chronological, order. In the first homeroom sequence, the overhead projector worked in concert with sculpted choreographic shapes. Dancers would create and hold a posture, which would then be traced on the overhead projector. Functionally, it brought active projection and real-time movement together as collaborating theatrical elements. But it also revealed some content, specifically the space between perception and reality. Other dances functioned to introduce and celebrate different personalities and idiosyncrasies. In gym class, one trio focused on individual interpretation and internal reflection through gestural movements. The ‘yes I do like snow because it is awesome’ ensemble dance was another ode to individualism. Every hand gesture was unique; the cast was reacting to this phrase in distinct ways – both verbally and physically. And how it revved up into a crazy tornado, perhaps like a snow blizzard, was delightful. Still other choreographic sequences functioned as more literal interpretations of the journal entries. In art class, the ‘we’re writing…’ scene saw arms and legs writing in the space; in the air, on the floor, quickly, expansively. From a functional perspective, there was such range and diversity, and that made every moment in “Paul C.’s Homeroom Journal” wonderfully unpredictable.
By far, my favorite choreographic segment was Randall’s ‘Under my bed is a trundle…’. One soloist cycled through the technically demanding choreography; levels constantly changing, evolving from one state to another. The cast was scattered around the space, standing still, clutching pillows. Choreographically and visually, it was a very moving experience.
Contemporary dance performance is important, but I don’t how often it is also fun. Stranger Lover Dreamer’s “Paul C.’s Homeroom Journal” is both.
October 24. The story of “Peter and the Wolf” is a narrative tapestry; a challenging (and often dark) adventure complete with unexpected circumstances and an ever-changing landscape. What a perfect match for contemporary dance performance – a field that is very familiar with those characteristics and themes. Sharp & Fine’s new evening-length version of “Peter and the Wolf” is a delight – full of surprise moments, revelatory structural components and a rare choreographic vocabulary. Co-founders Megan Kurashige and Shannon Kurashige have teamed up with composer/musician Theo Padouvas to re-create this classic tale for a twenty-first century audience.
With the exception of the protagonist Peter (boisterously and spiritedly portrayed by Katharine Hawthorne), the remaining four characters were concurrently embodied by both a dancer and a musician. The four incredibly talented musicians in the cast played throughout the hour-long work, but had a specific connection to one of the animal personalities – cat, bird, duck and wolf. Having dance/musical counterparts was such a smart way to communicate the characters. It provided a depth and dimension that was surprising, in a good way. And as the piece unfolded, we started to see these characters not as having two performers, but as one cohesive entity.
The musicians were called upon to move too, and not just walking around the stage space. Carson Stein (dancer) and Theo Padouvas (cornet) danced a beautiful duet together, in which Padouvas held his own as a significant interdisciplinary performer. And the fight between the wolf and the duck was made more volatile by the participation of both the dancers and the musicians. Joshua Marshall (on tenor saxophone) and Padouvas circled each other menacingly, ready to pounce at any second. Because the character synthesis had been so strong throughout “Peter and the Wolf”, it was definitely missed in the final duet between the two title characters. Hawthorne and Marissa Brown (as the wolf) danced the vignette with verve and skill, but the saxophonist was not integrated into the picture until the end of the pas de deux. That duet seemed to be missing the extra ‘charge’ that the other scenes (where the dancers and musicians were equally involved) had.
Megan and Shannon Kurashige’s choreographic vocabulary in “Peter and the Wolf” was a compelling blend of contemporary and classical technique. It never felt like they were going in and out of these two traditions; instead, the contemporary fed off the classical and vice versa. The results were stunning. Duets were filled with gorgeous turned out extensions, grand rond de jambes and upper body curves. The movement variations created for Peter joined passé turns, relevés and broad leaps that ate up space. Hawthorne aptly handled this complex and beautiful choreography; her steadiness on demi-pointe (regardless of the position), an inspiration.
October 25. The Temescal Art Center in Oakland was aflame with excitement and occasion for the opening night of the first ever !FLACC!, Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers. This inaugural evening of movement, music and community featured a collection of eight solos and duets, stylistically spanning the contemporary genre. A packed, enthusiastic house plus diverse performance offerings equals a very successful launching of this new festival program.
Dance theater was first up with “Metadonna”, co-choreographed by Compañia de Artes Vivas and Alariete. Blending text, movement, set, props and vocalization, the piece stayed true to the dance theater esthetic with blurred situations and confrontational circumstances. “Transitional Fluid” followed, a work-in-progress choreographed and performed by Diana Lara. Interdisciplinary in nature, “Transitional Fluid” had a narrative framework, multi-media video and textwork. But the most compelling element was Lara’s neo-classical choreographic approach in the opening moments. As train sounds pulsed in the background, expansive movements and physical gestures captivatingly marked the score.
Next up was Zari Le’on’s “In my Mother’s house there is still God!”, my favorite piece of the evening. Costumed like an evil fairytale queen, Le’on began downstage center with her back facing the audience. Strong, punctuated movements led her forward and back: extended arms with a fist, percussive feet, deep lunges, grand pliés in a wide second position. Le’on wove a spell to the milky, electronic score and with the exception of a few turns at the end, we never saw her face. This choice added an unexpected aspect of anonymity to the dance. Act I closed with the second draft of Rogelio Lopez’s “Love in a Box”. This work brought a fascinating structural/compositional element to the !FLACC! line-up. The only illumination utilized in the piece was a flashlight that was passed between the two dancers. Our gaze was being controlled by where that light fell and how it was used; as such, viewership became a more changeable experience.
Act II opened with a deconstructed narrative solo choreographed and danced by Natta Haotzima. A large picture frame styled set piece graced the center of the stage space and Haotzima was blindfolded throughout – a conceptual meditation on visibility. Eric Garcia and Kat Cole, co-Artistic Directors of detour dance, presented an excerpt from “Imitations of Intimacy”, danced by Garcia and Liane Burns. A comical contest of wills – who would give in, who would dominate, who would triumph – the excerpt also featured the best technical dancing of the night. Festival organizer Liz Boubion’s “Novia Muerta” took in the entire emotional spectrum. From tortured, gnarled almost Butoh-inspired motions all the way to pure, unadulterated, vibrating elation, “Novia Muerta” was an entertaining narrative roller coaster. The closing piece brought Lopez to the stage in a triptych by Catherine Marie Davalos. This work was all about directions, moving towards and away, sideways and every other way imaginable. A narrative encapsulation of complexity, it was also a perfect way in which to close the dynamic first iteration of !FLACC!.
Looking ahead – five exciting performances coming to the Bay Area in November…
Post:Ballet, Z Space, (Nov 20-22)
Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, (Nov 14-23)
San Francisco Dance Film Festival, Brava Theater Center, (Nov 6-9)
ODC/Dance in “The Velveteen Rabbit”, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, (Nov 28-Dec 14)
Works in the Works, Eighth Street Studio, (Nov 8-16)