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Summerfest/dance: West Wave Dance Festival - Program 1

'My Zina'
'Two Windows on a Pair'
'Giving Strength to this Fragile Tongue'
'Here for Now'
'The Wavering'
'Woop Woop'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

July 21, 2004 -- ODC Theater, San Francisco

Breaking up the Bay Area's arid summer dance season was this week's opening of the 13th Summerfest/dance West Wave Dance Festival at the ODC Theater in San Francisco, which kicked off a two-week modern dance festival with a mixed bag of works.

Even so, as with most West Wave programs, there were some fine performances, and at least one clear winner in Manuelito Biag's intense and strangely gripping "Giving Strength to this Fragile Tongue."

Biag, who directs SHIFT>>> Physical Theater, works on the ground between drama and dance with his portrait of two locked in a conjugal power struggle. Easily the most polished piece on the program, "Giving Strength" was set to a score by Jess Rowland, with a mix of church-like chanting layered with a hip-hop rat-tat-tat that suggested worlds apart. SHIFT's powerful Aimee Lam and Lorevic Rivera, as the warring couple, were no small part of the success of the piece, bringing not just a dramatic chemistry but also a strength of purpose to their movements.

Played out mainly in the domestic space of a table with two chairs downstage, with brief forays into the open space upstage for energetic solos and a contentious fight scene, there was a compressed contained feeling that gave menace to the act of pouring a glass of water. Within the limits of their domestic war zone, Lam and Rivera juxtaposed silky transitions with small details -- whether it was a hand quivering with repressed rage or a careful placement of a chair, their every move spoke volumes.

Few of the other works on Wednesday night managed the same kind of impact. Sheila Russell was a compelling focal point in the hip swaying "Here for Now" by Kelly Kemp. More ambitious than her edgy solo "Squint," which Kemp performed two months ago at Doug Baird's Performance Showcase 2004, "Here for Now" still lacked focus despite a sense of pleasant flow.

In a similar fashion, Kate Corby's solo "The Wavering" had some strengths, not the least of which was Corby herself. Her slightly frenzied laps around the stage, enveloped in a chic little coat, recalled the kind of urban hipness that marks some of Sara Shelton Mann's work. But as the piece wore on, there was a sudden inexplicable loss of momentum as if whatever the central idea she had been working on simply dropped out.

For most of the works, some judicious editing probably would have helped enormously. Chingchi Yu's "Woop Woop" wore out its quirky premise, despite an admirable sense of commitment from her dancers. Recalling an episode of "Wild Kingdom," Yu's four dancers, clad in ruched pink and red shorts and tops gave their all in a whimsical noisy evocation of animal crack-ups, but once we got the point, the piece could have ended.

In Susan Donham's "Two Windows on a Pair," Charlotte Mayang and Donham were distilled into two bodies revolving in and out of each other's spheres of influence, but without ever really fully engaging or presenting any surprises.

The only balletic work, Victor Kabaniaev's mystifying "My Zina," opened the program fighting disadvantages which undercut its effectiveness. The ballet had the bewildering start, in which dancer Tina Kay Bohnstedt stepped out from behind a life-sized cutout of a man playing a flute and the decision to put Bohnstedt on pointe deprived her of her normally weighted and spontaneous movement. ODC's space is not really suited to pointe shoes -- the floor beneath is too hard and echoes the clack of every landing from a jump--and Bohnstedt could really have gained from the freedom of working in soft shoes or barefoot. Even beyond that, though "My Zina" suffered from a lack of Kabaniaev's usual inventiveness, coming across as choreographically difficult and perhaps overly detailed and fussy.

Edited by Jeff.

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