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ODC/San Francisco - Dancing Downtown:  '24 Exposures,' 'Last Hello,' 'Pass'

by Toba Singer

February 20, 2004 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

ODC/San Francisco speaks a language all its own, has its own oral tradition -- and not just related to dance. Get any past or present ODCer going on about the company, and pretty soon you'll hear something like, "Yeah, once we were doing laundry when all of a sudden…" The ODCer doesn't mean they were in the middle of washing costumes. He or she means that the company was dancing the piece "Laundry."

On the odd chance that you haven't seen "Laundry" because it hasn't been shown in seven years, you will understand no part of the story, even if English is your first language. Then there's the ODC covenant with its members that as a company, they know how to strip and roll marley in five minutes flat. Why? Well, that's another story that leads to another…about how big the line item for duct tape is in the company's budget.

So when ODC publicity says, "Dancing Downtown," the ODC-savvy reviewer might think that the whole tribe plans to gussy up for a fancy-dancy ride downtown, doing a kind of self-conscious San Francisco knock-off of "The Beverly Hillbillies," and that somewhere in this there'll be a story to tell some day. What that reviewer must fully absorb is that ODC/San Francisco has become Downtown.

Their ("We Came West in an old School Bus") legend has become Urban. With construction of an additional building across from their Shotwell Street studios and theater, they're arriving at that place where the collective marley-rolling skill will be more of a curio than a daily regimen. Someday, somebody will stand up to tell that story at a Marleython fundraiser for ODC Downtown.

In "24 Exposures" by Brenda Way, to music by Edgar Meyer, we get many surprising pictures. The first opens with Brian Fisher assuming a cave-man-like hunker, with his partner, Anne Zivolich, poised on top of him. As he slowly stretches into something a little more Homo erectus, she adapts in order to evolve (or is it vice versa?), and the remaining dancers run in, hurrying us into the present moment costumed in summery prints.

Men stretch into spaces where women aren't; women do the jaunty run with fists clenched -- that is the means by which Way hustles dancers to their next exposure. Yukie Fujimoto snaps onto the shoulders of her partner. Elegantly placed, the now-debonair Fisher drives a complex of twists and strides across an upstage plane. The men reveal more practiced ensemble quality than the women, who import some disembodiment into their subsequent partnerships with the men.

The women's solos are altogether a different story. They shine: the solo in red by Jane Sato and the work of Anne Zivolich are standouts. Private Freeman takes center stage and gives us unfettered, outwardly-directed work, stepping to a celtic-sounding passage. He is bouyant yet commanding, and when the entire company falls in with a new, improved and dazzling ensemble look, it makes you think of what's left after a casting loses its wax.

The men's trio polishes it to a heightened sheen, and then Fujimoto and her partner take it somewhere more seaworthy, her gentle extensions unfolding to reveal a shoreline delineated by the bodies' pitch and roll.

"Last Hello," by K.T. Nelson, relies on her voiceover -- and masterful acting and technical feats by dancer Brian Fisher -- to convey a disturbing paradox. The voiceover is cross-examining a femme-fantasizing male dancer as to whether he's certain that he really knows what it means to become a woman. More specifically, does he understand the implications of being a woman, minus a woman's internal chemistry set? Just in case he isn't ready to face swallowing the adopted role whole, Nelson's offers an information-rich tutorial. It's a travelogue based on her own journey into menopause, and leaves no territory underdeveloped.

I first saw Fisher dance "Last Hello" at San Francisco's Summerfest two seasons ago. I found it difficult to focus on both the text and the dancing because each was, in its own way, thick with description and, except for a difficult adagio toward the end, rapidly executed. This time, I took no notes so that I could fully listen to the text. I may need to see it again before I feel satisfied that I can bring the text and choreography into a single focus.

Fisher, dancing in a romantic mien to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," is layered in lingerie. He tears off a chemise here, a slip there, running blind through grand jetés with a garment halfway up over his head. As his hands flail obligingly but frantically at the heat, Nelson's voice deconstructs the terror of the Hot Flash (slyly invisible, and all the more insidious for that), as a weapon of chemical warfare trained on the woman over fifty. Fisher bends forward and down, and extends his hands through his legs and up to his crotch, as Nelson laments the loss of vaginal mucous, a condition that he appears, head over a shoulder (or is it under?), shocked to acknowledge.

Are such concerns as weighty to the transgendered, who have, after all, hair to remove, other hair to style; breasts to grow, voices to temper and meaty hands, Adam's Apples, and prominent jaws to subdue? If not, Nelson is intent on adding a few items to that loaded agenda. She leverages a rapier wit, not a little warped by material reality. It contrasts sharply with the Fantasy Island of cross-dressing, tressing and trussing about to be exposed with the help of a single bright spotlight.

The monologue's sophomoric anger waxes somewhat unbecoming, especially considering its source: a woman whose season of glamour has, well, faded. Nelson is packing Too Much Information for Fisher, and it detonates our Fetishist-in-Distress like water cozying up to molten steel. Whether you like it will depend upon how you find yourself feeling about the pedagogy of menopause, transgender, and then viewing possibly one of your favorite dancers stripped nearly naked (not to mention, defenseless) in the finale. It's not that K.T. Nelson would want to put too fine a point on this conceit that she has lubed generously with her signature irony!

"Pass," by K.T. Nelson, premiered on this program. It's a lighthearted piece set to J.S. Bach's "Concerto in A Minor for Violin." The back scrim is bright red, the men wear red poet shirts and black shorts; the women, red leotards, and there are many red caps to serve as props.

It's the exuberant story of good-natured (red) competitors, all after just one (red) thing (the cap). It's set in a place that's about as red as a place can get and still have a little black in it. The dancers chase each other's red caps. In the end, nobody wins, because the last cap of the last dancer -- the ultimate quarry -- is tossed into the audience on the last beat of the music.

One of our party of eight commented, "I was glad there were caps. The cap was the story. Without the cap, it would be just another [leotard] piece." She's from Boston, as in (to take a little poetic license here): Boston, dear Boston / The land of the bean and the cod / Where Lodges speak only to Cabots / And The Cap, it speaks only to God.

So, I'll "Pass," and she'll get to have the last cap.

[For a review of the closing piece in this program please see the post on "Flight to Ixcan" and the accompanying interview with Kimi Okada and Claudia Bernardi.]

Edited by Lori Ibay

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