- Post:Ballet – Five High
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
- ODC Theater presents Music Moves Festival
Paufve|Dance & Kate Weare Company
- CounterPULSE, San Francisco
The Lost Boys, choreography by Kevin Williamson
August 7. Five years is a long time. And when a dance company reaches this significant birthday, especially in this artistic climate, it is a big deal. Post:Ballet’s fifth summer program, “Five High”, had the requisite celebratory perspective that this milestone called for. There was an occasion to gaze back into the company’s repertory archives with Artistic Director Robert Dekkers’ “field the present shifts” (2013) and “Mine is Yours” (2012), as well as an opportunity to look forward with the newest premiere “ourevolution”. While all three pieces were incredibly unique and distinct, a common atmosphere of relatability and egalitarianism permeated the evening; especially fitting for a company who genuinely values an ongoing relationship and active conversation with their audience.
Act I saw the reappearance of 2013’s “field the present shifts”, a thirty-minute creative and physical marathon for a cast of seven. Many of last year’s observations held true. Dekkers’ choreography is intoxicating and varied, ranging from fast-paced intricacies to chiseled energy forms. Grand visuals abound with ascending/descending sculptural art and astronomy-like video projections on the back cyclorama (by Robby Gilson with Catherine Caldwell). Favorite moments include the ‘group huddle’ where each dancer’s leg is extended high into the air, the statue sequence, and Aidan DeYoung’s amazing developpé toward the end of the work – à la second with the standing leg in fondu. But this year, the universal sense of circumstance stood out, a situation that everyone can relate to.
Throughout “field the present shifts”, chance compositional technique is utilized, where the dancers are invited to make guided decisions in the performance. This was evident in the unison segments where performers cycled through the choreography at different speeds and with their own pulse, timing and rhythm. Similarly, the calisthenics sequence (with a set of punctuated gestures and movements) also implied some real-time decision-making. Some of the ensemble held particular poses, while others continued on. Changing circumstances; lack of control; adapting and adjusting to the unexpected – an egalitarian experience for sure.
Following the intermission, Laura Mead, Laura O’Malley, Caroline Rocher and Ricardo Zayas took the stage in “Mine Is Yours”, a haunting quartet from 2012. The mysterious, almost eerie quality in this short ballet makes another comment on egalitarianism, but this time from within the narrative. The first moments of the work find the trio of women standing in a line facing upstage. Arms extend to grab something, but then retract before acquisition. Then, they near Zayas, trepidatiously tiptoeing on high demi-pointe, like they are unsure if this is really what they want. From time to time, Zayas also approached each woman, walking in a bent over position, unable to look them in the eye. Last, there was a recurring motif where the dancers slid into the splits, but never quite getting all the way there. Dekkers’ “Mine Is Yours” reveals a shared, broad message about vulnerability, hesitancy and the inability to go ‘all-in’.
‘Five High’ closed with the world premiere of “ourevolution”, a collaborative, contemporary work for five dancers. While Dekkers’ choreographic vocabulary was definitely present, as was collaboration (animation, visual art, lighting, music and costume design), “ourevolution” is a very different piece for Post:Ballet, and in a good way. It is one of quiet subtlety, a pseudo-linear narrative (though still not a direct story) as well as an exploration of how pedestrian movement fits with contemporary ballet.
The dance begins with a long patterned walking sequence; each individual entering the space at different points, traveling towards and away from the other cast members. Right away, you feel that this is a community of individuals who know each other, yet there is distance. They wear hooded jackets and sheer face covers (which are discarded over the course of the piece), making them invisible and anonymous, yet visible and obvious at the same time. The action unfolds behind a scrim that also provides a platform for the phenomenal animation (by Yas Opisso with additions by Stephen Goldblatt), and serves to create an extra level of narrative detachment in the piece. The animation is super interesting in its own right but when paired with the choreography, took on new and deep meaning, specifically during Katherine Wells’ solo as she interacted with the geometric animated shapes, throwing and catching them.
Choreographically, “ourevolution” evolves and crescendos over its twenty plus minutes into some complex, inspiring and technically demanding solos, duets and group sequences. Though towards the end of the dance, the walking theme returns – again, a pedestrian statement of egalitarianism. The audience knows this movement; they participate in it everyday, and so, can see themselves in the work.
In the past half-decade, Artistic Director Robert Dekkers has created a successful, thriving and influential arts institution with Post:Ballet, but what “Five High” truly reveals is the journey of an artistic family; a cohesive and committed group of professionals that has gelled creatively and grown together. It is going to be a joy to see where Post:Ballet is five years from now.
August 15. Experimentation; exploration; excellence. These three Es are embedded in ODC Theater’s DNA, and their current artistic endeavor, curated by Deputy Director for Advancement Christy Bolingbroke, provides further confirmation. The Music Moves Festival took the ODC Theater stage into full incubator mode, with the goal of discovering, uncovering, affirming and highlighting the distinct relationship between dance and music. To that end, “Music Moves” welcomed over a dozen performing artists in eleven different programs over three plus weeks – a significant number of unique perspectives on dance and music.
For the festival’s shared seventh chapter, two stunning contemporary companies brought three dance works, each speaking distinctly to music and sound: Paufve|Dance in 2013’s “Soil” and Kate Weare Company in “Drop Down” (2007) and “Still Life With Avalanche” (2014). All three pieces certainly have noteworthy construction and performances. Yet with this festival’s focus, it seems right to concentrate the majority of comments and observations to the connection between choreography and musical composition.
This was a totally different “Soil” than 2013’s site-specific premiere engagement last fall in the East Bay Hills. Here, four dancers (Randee Paufve, Maureen Miner, Peiling Kao and Juliana Monin) took on the set of five solos (choreographed by Gregg Bielemeier, Della Davidson and Paufve). This time “Soil” was not mobile, instead unfolding in a proscenium arch space with a more traditional audience/performer arrangement. In addition, the dance had no stops and starts, but fed seamlessly from one portion to the next.
Considering the work within the context of Music Moves’ theme, “Soil” examines contemporary dance alongside a collection of live music and recorded scores. There is somewhat of a bias that dance performance with live music elicits better results, but the work illustrates that the pairing of movement with both recorded and live music can be revelatory. In the opening solo, Paufve and cellist Chris Evans engaged in an active conversation. Though the choreography and music both appeared set, the music was not accompanying the dance nor was the dance prescribed to the music. Together, they were creating a live state of reaction and interpretation. A perfect example was when Paufve drew her arms and leg across her body in retiré passé, while Evans similarly stretched and extended her note. In the second variation, Miner approached the mixed musical articulation of a recorded score. Equal parts detached staccato and lush legato peppered the complex composition, handily expressed by Miner. A particularly beautiful moment was when those two articulations came together in the movement – she shot her arm into the air like an arrow and then immediately gathered it into a flowing, circular pathway.
Kao’s post-modern solo has a combination of recorded and live music (by Elijah Wallace at the piano) and it was her character that evolved depending on the type of music used. With the piano, whimsy and playfulness take over and with the recording a more staid, controlled state is present. In the fourth segment, a wind-based soundscore helps create a setting and environment that framed Paufve’s dramatic solo.
Last year, I noted that, from time to time, the music and movement in “Soil” didn’t match, particularly in the fifth and final solo (danced here by Monin, then Paufve, with Wallace again on the piano). While I still noticed that discord at this performance, I could also see and hear it with a new mindset. There was a conversation between the physicality and the sound; it was just on two different wavelengths. Same topic, two opposing opinions – we have all had interactions just like that. The takeaway from 2014’s iteration of “Soil” is that both live and recorded music can collaborate with choreography in real-time.
Following the intermission, Kate Weare’s choreography took center stage with two modern works, both performed to recorded music. First up was “Drop Down”, a dramatic, passionate, volatile, defiant, demanding, tango-inspired duet danced by Joseph Hernandez and Natasha Adorlee Johnson (guest artists appearing courtesy of ODC/Dance). Katie Down’s score is complexly layered with music, sound effects, electric interjections and ambient noise. While very different from each other, the choreography and the score have the same fundamental intention – to produce a feeling of purposeful uneasiness. The harsh, dissonant sounds are periodically difficult to listen to, and Weare’s movement has similar moments of tumult (Johnson’s drop to the ground following a gorgeous knee lift drew gasps). And what the audience learned here about music and movement is that both disciplines were necessary to craft this level of narrative instability. “Drop Down” was on the edge, unexpected and provocative; and incidentally, was also the best piece on the program.
Weare’s “Still Life With Avalanche”, a trio danced by Dennis Adams, Justin Andrews and Anne Zivolich (also guest artists appearing courtesy of ODC/Dance), closed the evening. Directed in partnership with Brenda Way and with recorded music by Wolfgang Capellari, Gerard Pesson and Missy Mazzoli, it is an example of ‘new’ neo-classical choreography. That sounds like a redundant term, but the work really shows an updated version of this celebrated choreographic style.
One of the primary tenets of neo-classical choreography is how the steps mark and emphasize the score. “Still Life With Avalanche” has this in spades. From the initial crawling to parallel jumps in first to the swinging, metronome arms, the recorded composition reflects well on the stage. What moves the style into this ‘new’ neo-classicism was the choreographic vocabulary itself. The movement choices are innovative and risky, fresh and of this moment – it is clearly a daring approach to neo-classical structure. One noted highlight was Zivolich’s pencheé arabesque. She extended her leg fully and when we thought the movement was over, her foot rotated in a complete circle. And the final moment of the dance brought a burst of surprise as the trio darted to the floor in the points of a triangle. Having said that, “Still Life With Avalanche” does suffer from some dynamic stagnancy. Much of the time, the movement and the music exist at the same intensity level, which led to some long lulls. And so, it was a slightly odd choice for the finale of this otherwise powerful program of sound and physicality.
August 21. Multi-discipline performance; dance theater; new/mixed media. Chances are if you are headed to a modern dance concert in 2014, it is actually one of these genres that you will be seeing. Choreography and movement mixed with sculpture, costuming, visual art, sound and/or videography certainly permeates today’s dance field.
Some of these interdisciplinary attempts fare better than others. Too often, the connection between additional performance elements and the dance is at best, tenuous. The stage gets peppered with extra ‘stuff’ that is not relevant, relative nor resonant. And in most cases, these extras actually distract from otherwise sound choreography. But even though multi-genre dance clearly hasn’t won me over yet, even I can admit that when done well, the results can be extraordinary. And quite often, what separates a ‘successful’ interdisciplinary dance work from the rest of the pack is that the choreography and the movement retain top billing, while the other entities play an integral, albeit supporting, role.
Kevin Williamson’s “The Lost Boys” is an example of how mixed-disciplined work can go very, very right. At CounterPULSE in San Francisco’s Mission District for a two-performance run, “The Lost Boys” is an evening-length mens quartet combining dance with vocalization, props, text and lighting. The work tackles a very specific narrative – the 1980s AIDS crisis and how it affected those who grew up during that tumultuous period. A complex, layered theme, such as this, actually lends itself well to a multi-genre performance style. The choreography and movement are the primary mode of communication, speaking to the high level, deeper narratives: the search for love and companionship, the experience of being in community yet still feeling alone, the attempt to traverse a personal journey amidst outside forces. The ‘other’ theatrical entities assist the dance by providing framing and context, most important, placing the action into Williamson’s chosen historical era.
Harsh, stark fluorescent lights signal the beginning of the work as the four men take the stage. Once in place, they begin a lengthy arm movement phrase – expansive yet controlled motions in very tight proximity. Their physical juxtaposition implies intimacy, but the four never actually touch. Here is a community that is close, yet still maintains purposeful distance from each other. And this space between ‘the real’ and ‘the veneer’ comes back again and again, but in creative new ways.
Early on, the musical influences set the stage with some well-chosen selections from mid- to late-1980s. Williamson opts to combine recordings with live singing/speaking of the lyrics. Though there are snippets of eighties choreography in the dance itself, it was really these song selections (in each form) that made the time period clear.
In the middle of “The Lost Boys”, the cast embark on the main modern dance sequence. From Williamson’s choreographic construction to the performance of the elements to the narrative undertone, it was flawless. This portion is all about strength – strength of composition, strength of technical ability, strength of character. Club dance mixed with classic grand pliés in first position; Capoeira influences fed into re-imagined renversés; and full split jetés walked alongside pedestrian tasks.
Throughout the piece, a spitting motif recurs, and it wasn’t pantomimed – the dancers actually spit at and on each other. At first, this was a little shocking and frankly, pretty gross. But because Williamson utilizes the dance theater tool of repetition, after a while you were anesthetized to it. Getting used to seeing the spitting also allowed the narrative to emerge. The spitting is violent, powerful and desperate, and above all, very personal. It encapsulates real levels of fear and frustration that have nowhere else to go. Text-work also revealed this internal/external struggle. A trio repeats the sentence “you’re fine” over and over. What started as internal reassuring quickly morphs to external objectification. Repeated sauté jumps in parallel passé also speak to the difference between reality and pretense. The cast jump high in the air with pasted on smiles that instantly dissipate once they land. And in a surprise move, Williamson closes the fifty-minute work with an incredibly tender duet. “The Lost Boys” comes full circle with this final statement of vulnerability, care and attention after much conflict, strife and discomfort.
From this month, each Bay Area Round-up will conclude with a note of upcoming highlights; work that will be showing in the SF/Bay Area over the next month. Here are a few performances you should add to your list for September:
West Wave Dance Festival; Z Space, San Francisco (Sept 3-7)
Cal Performances presents Mark Morris Dance Group; UC Berkeley (Sept 25-28)
Flyaway Productions presents “Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane”; a site-specific production at UC Hastings (Sept 12-20)
Mary Armentrout Dance Theater presents “fantasia upon the moment when the woman invisible to herself and the man who isn’t sure whether he wants to exist yet or not decide to go in on an apartment together”; Z Space, San Francisco (Sept 11-13)
Capacitor in “Synaptic Motion”; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (Sept 18-21)