Twisted Oak Dance Theater presents “Constants & Variables”
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
ka·nei·see | collective presents Readymade
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
The Anata Project – notjustmoreidlechatter
Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco
Oct 2nd – Consider “constants” and “variables” through a mathematical and algebraic lens – terms in an equation, fixed/consistent versus changeable/unknown. Twisted Oak Dance Theater has chosen this apt title (“Constants & Variables”) for the company’s annual curated program at Dance Mission Theater. Each year, Director Colin Epstein assembles a new performing arts salon, a shared concert with returning mainstay constants and newer variables alike. For the fifth anniversary edition of this program, which ran this past weekend, Epstein invited a cohort of alumni from past years – Mid to West Dance Company, One Thought Theater, Twisted Oak Dance Theater, Ninja Hoops, Heather Arnett and 13th Floor. In addition, ka·nei·see | collective joined Friday’s performance, previewing their full-length work Readymade, which will have its premiere next weekend also at Dance Mission Theater.
Opening the program was Mid to West Dance Company’s Faces and People, an ensemble work for six dancers choreographed by Sarah JG Chenoweth, Rebecca Chun and Mo Miner. A joyful expression of fluidity and connectedness overwhelmed the stage from the first entrance to the blackout – bodies moving through space, carving out the space and creating shapes within the space. Whether staccato or legato, in unison or cannoned timing, partnered or individual, each movement flowed deliciously into the next. Hands sliced through the air, upper bodies swung forward in rebounding curves, hips undulated, legs battemented in second position, arms swept like birds’ wings. Lush physicality, phrasal connectivity, forward motion and delightful performances – a beautiful start to 2016’s “Constants & Variables.”
Twisted Oak Dance Theater brought Epstein’s Untangled, an interdisciplinary mix of dance, text and scenework set in an abstracted theatrical container. Characters from different realms came together – three muse-like orchestrators, a devilish imp and a human – in a game of control that ultimately became a parable of choice and structure. And peppered throughout the program were three comical interludes by One Thought Theater on the meaning of art, one of which called on the audience for participation.
Two apparatus offerings were up next. First, Ninja Interrupta by Ninja Hoops’ Zach Fischer and Marria Grace – a super fun and playful combination of martial arts, acrobatic choreography, juggling, humor and of course, hoops. One might assume that Heather Arnett’s Saving Seats was a solo but it was in fact a quintet, a cast of one dancer (Arnett) and four chairs, one of which was attached to Arnett’s back throughout the entire piece. An innovative approach to the relationship between movement, props and set pieces, Saving Seats found the soloist “partnering” with all of the chairs – I definitely look forward to seeing more of Arnett’s work in the future.
13th Floor closed the 2016 “Constants & Variables” program with The End of the Story, a multi-genre physical theater composition with cleverly tangled plot points and purposeful quirky melodrama. Narratives of interruption, unexpected turns of events and porous portals between life and death were explored through a narrator and two couples. Choreographically, a recurring waltzy sequence acted as a break in the action, injecting some winsome charm. And the group dance at the end was a hilarious physical mash-up — a farcical vaudevillian take on everything from contemporary dance to pas de deux partnering to 1970s jazz pas de boureés.
Oct 8th – The stage was bare, except for three flexible strands of paper stretched across the back wall. Dancers entered the space, arms cycling through simple port de bras (fourth position to third arabesque to first), while simultaneously interacting with the bands of paper. More performers joined, and tenderly, carefully, with both attention and affection, stepped in and out through the porous structure, even developpé-ing from front through passé to the back while holding onto the fibers. Next the cast moved to the center of the stage and began pulling toilet paper from the wings into large piles in front of them, like meringue pillows or the skirt of a billowy tulle ball gown. In these first moments, it was clear that the rolls of toilet paper were to be an active participant in the work, not merely a prop, not only an object to be arranged, not just a set dressing, but a functioning theatrical device in Readymade.
ka·nei·see | collective’s newest world premiere looks to Marcel Duchamp’s Readymade art movement of the early 1900s, where ordinary objects were proffered and set into an artistic container and frame. But it does so with an abstracted approach. In the program notes for Readymade, Artistic Director Tanya Chianese shares this statement as a guide to her piece, “Readymade is not about Duchamp’s work, but instead aims to invoke his iconic idea of do-it-yourself power to reshape one’s own life by changing how we view things.” And this contemporary dance composition certainly lives into that vision. While deskilling frequently arose in the discourse around Duchamp’s work, Chianese’s Readymade is more about disrupting assumptions, subverting expectations and shifting perceptions, challenging audience members to parse out their own modes and patterns of viewership.
A fifty-minute ensemble work for ten women, Readymade is constructed as a suite, fourteen small scenes flowing seamlessly from one to the next. Set against the growing toilet paper backdrop, the early vignettes were dominated by Chianese’s formidable choreography, innovative yet technically grounded at the same time – a modern release solo accompanied by a Greek-style chorus, a contact improvisation inspired trio, a varied quartet and an accumulation phrase of recognizable movement gestures (fanning one’s face, shushing, etc.). Then the dancers retrieved the rolls of toilet paper and carefully unfurled one long stream in front of each of them. Pressing their palms to the paper, they directed its gaze, guiding its view like a beam from a lighthouse. And what happened next was the crystallization of the entire piece. It was a quiet moment, but so narratively rich and revelatory. The cast picked up the rolls, turned them on their side and looked directly at the audience through the hollow center. In that instant, the questions of viewership sang from the stage. What are we seeing? How do we edit our lens? How broad or narrow is our scope? Are you watching us or are we watching you?
Alongside these simple and profound statements were contrasting high-octane choreographic phrases. Following a diagonal line of toilet paper rolls, the ensemble vaulted from upstage left to down right. Energetic dynamics, level changes, long extensions, grand rond de jambes and wafting arms filled the space. And watching these dancers travel full out at full speed, it is impossible not to mention the company’s noteworthy and impressive spatial awareness. Humor also played a role in Readymade. Another soloist stood still on stage, while roll and after roll of toilet paper were lofted and hurled towards her. Joined by three other dancers, a choreographic sequence from earlier in the work recurred, this time amidst all the tatters and clouds of paper – reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s Carnations (1982). And while this scene was very funny, it also continued to pose penetrating narrative and structural questions – how does context change a phrase; how does setting affect the physicality?
Oct 15th – Rain and wind whirled outside, harmonizing together in a blustery fall storm. Inside Joe Goode Annex, The Anata Project’s sixth home season brought a similar meeting of powerful and forceful elements – the body and the mind. How do thoughts, feelings and beliefs translate into actions and reactions? How are the physical and the emotional connected? Can we separate the two? Would we ever want to? Founder and Artistic Director Claudia Anata tackles these penetrating questions in an evening of world premieres, inviting the viewer to consider a confluence of human states through film and contemporary dance.
Opening the program was Anata’s It Fades, a short dance film featuring company artists Jessica Egbert, Julie-Ann Gambino, Yuko Mondon and Mallory Markham. In a stunning collage of shadows and light, small scenes, short phrases, gestures and postures appeared and disappeared on the screen; existing for a moment and then morphing into something new. It Fades, as the title suggests, reveals the ephemerality and fleeting nature of dance and movement, and does so with beauty, grace and an innovative spirit. And starting the evening with a prelude film (as last year’s home season did) also affords a wonderful opportunity for the audience to quiet outside forces and enter into this space and this work.
After a short pause, Egbert, Gambino, Mondon and Markham took the stage in the program’s main event, notjustmoreidlechatter. Mondon faced the audience, while Egbert, Gambino and Markham sat facing upstage. Her entire body pulsed through the opening solo, erratically changing directions, frenetically twinging, desperately searching for an elusive calm and quiet. It looked like she was fighting a treacherous battle, caught between control and chaos. Eventually she joined the other three dancers on the floor, and the quartet began a meditative, systematic series of rolling – rolling through the spine, rolling on the floor. The entire time, they faced away from us, truly at one with the tasks and movements at hand. Through a subsequent set of cluster structures, they emerged from this formation and notjustmoreidlechatter expanded into the space.
While not attempting to relay a story (neither a linear nor abstracted one), notjustmoreidlechatter was definitely steeped in a strong narrative/conceptual foundation, as the connection between the corporeal and the emotional oozed out of every pore. Anata, through her inspired choreography, and the dancers, through their superb performances, were able to demonstrate the range and breadth of the complicated human experience. Circular motions – running in a circuit, turns in attitude, quick grand rond de jambes – suggested cyclical thoughts, perhaps even a rumination cycle. Slow careful walks spoke of uncertainty, trepidation and maybe even fear. Repeated and crescendoed leg swings signaled a haunting, infectious, pervasive belief. While the majority of the material was of a heavier and more serious note, joy and abandon also played a part in notjustmoreidlechatter. Upper body releases sang of wonder and contentment; contact-improvisation style partnering of community, solidarity and support.
Mid-way through notjustmoreidlechatter, Anata injected a repetitive unison sequence, the four performers wiping the floor with their hands, in a windshield pattern. While the movement was very mechanical, at the same time, it evoked a feeling of comfort and familiarity in its repetition. Interspersed through this mesmerizing sequence were individual moments of dissention – arms extending to the ceiling, changes of direction – and then returning to the original movement – a statement illustrating the complexity of group dynamics and individual agency.
As the piece closed, the quartet sat in a diagonal line, feet pointing towards stage right; the lights began to dim and they bowed their heads gently. It was a striking scene, visually, narratively and physically, a point of repose, a cadence, an ending, yet not really the end at all. It could have just as easily been the beginning. The cast could have started the early rolling motif, only at a different facing. The body/mind connection is one that isn’t done, it isn’t finished. It’s a continual process and notjustmoreidlechatter is a stunning reminder of that surety.