Kristin Damrow and Ashley Brown in Alyce Finwall Dance Theater's RUNE Photo Alyce Finwall

Kristin Damrow and Ashley Brown in Alyce Finwall Dance Theater’s RUNE
Photo Alyce Finwall

Heather Desaulniers

With its vibrant, diverse and ever changing choreographic scene, the San Francisco/Bay Area does not have a typical dance season. Folks looking for a movement-based performance can expect to find at least one show (and usually many more) running most weekends. That being said, the region does have a few transitional points each year; times where the community bids adieu to a particularly busy few months and gears up for the next few. End of May to the beginning of July is often one such stretch. So, here are a couple of noteworthy performances during those five transitional weeks, as we moved from Spring 2015 into what is shaping up to be a very active Summer dance season.

  • Fort Mason Center and the Eyes and Ears Foundation present the San Francisco International Arts Festival
    Alyce Finwall Dance Theater/Olga Kosterina
    Fleet Room, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
  • The San Francisco Conservatory of Dance presents The Summer Dance Series: In-Studio
    Program A – Sharp & Fine’s Miniatures, Joy Prendergast’s Collisions

May 31. As May comes to a close and June begins, dance, music, film, theater and visual artists from around the world converge at the 2015 San Francisco International Arts Festival. Fort Mason Center is transformed into the ultimate performance incubator; current creative pursuits around every corner. And each day of this three-week event brings a host of opportunities to engage with the artistic process. On the festival’s second Sunday, one of the many dance offerings was a shared program of contemporary choreography in Fort Mason’s Fleet Room. Alyce Finwall Dance Theater premiered Finwall’s newest duet, RUNE, followed by Olga Kosterina in the U.S. premiere of her solo, Dilemma Part One.

Finwall’s RUNE starts with a spoken word intro, a poem by Katalyst. On the sides of the room behind the audience, dancers Ashley Brown and Kristin Damrow recite the poem in English while standing still, and then in Norwegian, with accompanying gestures. The same text is recurs in bits and pieces throughout the work. When the dance begins, a pool of blue light washes over the stage making the dancers look like they are swimming through air. It was a striking visual that left the image of a wave with me throughout the dance’s first few sections.

Finwall introduces a number of different choreographic ideas: calm, soothing and circular; volatile and wild; mechanical; even pedestrian. The choreography is be one thing and then suddenly becomes something else, and the moment of transition was cleverly elusive. It is a completely fluid interweaving of the diverse phrase material. And just like a wave, pinpointing the instant of formation or dispersement is tricky, but the experience in the moment is both full and rich.

The mysteriousness of beginnings and endings was an ongoing theme in both the internal choreography and the overall form and structure of RUNE. Near half-way, the lights dim and the dancers exit the stage space. When they walked back to the center I’m pretty sure that most of the audience (myself included) thought they were going to take their bows. Surprisingly, the lights chang and the piece continues; a brilliant physical caesura.

Much of RUNE’s choreography was in unison and when that unison was called for, it was generally quite good. Though there were a few moments where the choreography’s timing had slight deviations. It may have been purposeful; but maybe not.

A dramatically-charged, narratively-driven solo, Olga Kosterina’s Dilemma Part One is an epic journey of self-exploration. It begins slowly and methodically as Kosterina rolls and moves through a circuit of poses, all while a band covered her eyes, like a blindfold. This statement, a fusion of gymnastics, contortion, acrobatics and contemporary dance was present, continues until the dance’s final blackout.

Kosterina’s initial pathway leads her to a set of black and white props at the far edge of the performance space and that become integrated into her choreography, facilitating new positions and new imagery. Much of the early movement has a very controlled, intentional and specific nature. Until, a circular black skirt was ushered into the mix, and a lengthy spinning segment emerges; my favorite chapter in Dilemma Part One, a scene of whirling freneticism. When Kosterina abandons the props, a trapped demeanor takes over her character, eventually feeding into a final sequence of jumps and leaps, clearly illustrating a desire to break away from her reality.

Kosterina is an extraordinary mover with incredible physical range and stamina (the solo is around fifty minutes long), but although Dilemma Part One contains some very intriguing choreographic sections, for my personal taste it falls a little too much into the gymnastic/acrobatic camp.

Rachel Laws in Sharp & Fine's Miniatures Photo Shannon Kurashige

Rachel Laws in Sharp & Fine’s Miniatures
Photo Shannon Kurashige

June 30. The San Francisco Conservatory of Dance is fast becoming one of my favorite performing arts venues in the city, for everything from emerging choreography to student showcases to well-established troupes. And each year, the Conservatory hosts the Summer Dance Deries: In-Studio. The first program of 2015 joined two contemporary trios on a single program: Sharp & Fine’s Miniatures (choreography by Megan Kurashige and Shannon Kurashige) and Collisions by Joy Prendergast.

As the lights go up on Miniatures, two dancers enter the space and a solo saxophonist (Joshua Marshall) positions himself against the upstage wall. He begins a hauntingly ethereal solo line while the dancers moved meticulously, connecting and intertwining their hands and arms. A third dancer soon joins, and after reciting the first of many Shakespeare excerpts, begins animatedly dancing around the duo. Then the dynamics shift. The soloist stands silently while the duet go after their interdependent sculptures with more urgency and intensity. These dramatic dynamic changes would inform much of the work.

The Shakespeare excerpts are not acted out literally, but are not randomly thrown in either. And while the dancers may not dance directly to the music, that is not arbitrary either. This juxtaposition of theatrical elements takes us to the core of the work. Though there certainly is a deconstructed narrative at play, the interdisciplinary aspect of Miniatures is more about form and less about deciphering the story. The use of movement, text and sound reveals the structural properties of each, and how when combined thoughtfully, they have an unmatched ability to set a scene and create a mood. ‘Thoughtful’ is the key word here because Sharp & Fine’s choreographic team of Megan Kurashige and Shannon Kurashige are just that in their endeavors, from the collaborative elements to the costumes to the movement itself.

Choreographically, the duets in Miniatures are steeped with unexpected partnering and the solos with challenging extension turns and demanding grand ronds de jambe. Intentionality and articulation are at the heart of this piece and the cast certainly delivered.

A different mood was set with the second trio of the evening, Joy Prendergast’s Collisions, one of individuality and sharing. In silence, amidst the natural light of dusk, three dancers perform their own movement phrase, sculpting the space with their individual statements. After subtle lighting is introduced, each takes a turn alone, building and developing on their initial choreographic commentary. During these solos, a combination of recorded text and classical scores sails through the air.

The compelling nature of Collisions is in each dance being very personal, yet the expression, scope and execution reading fully outward; almost like being told three unique stories, but only snippets, just parts of a whole. In each case, the choreography is phenomenally good and the dancing, divine.

At the end of Prendergast’s dance, the three performers come back together, adding spoken phrases to the mix – statements of reassurance and encouragement that also have a healthy dose of dismissiveness and humor. As suggested by the dance’s title, Prendergast is commenting on a collision – when the reality of situation and circumstance is challenged by an uncontrollable internal dialog.

Looking ahead: Speaking of a busy SF/Bay Area summer dance season, here are a few upcoming highlights for the month of July…

SAFEhouse Arts’ SPF8, ODC Theater (July 8-12)

Garrett + Moulton Productions, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (July 9-12)

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, ODC Theater (July 16-19)

Post:Ballet, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (July 24-25)

San Francisco Ballet, Stern Grove Festival (July 26)