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West Wave Dance Festival - Program 9

Wild (yet) Mild West

by Becca Hirschman

July 30, 2005 -- ODC Theatre, California

A few weeks ago, I saw Program 2 of the West Wave Dance Festival, and while sparsely attended, the majority of the choreography infused originality with maturity. Last night at the opening of the two-day run of Program 9, the audience filled all of the seats and more. Perhaps an inverse indicator of quality, as the works presented were not nearly as fulfilling as those of Program 2.

Two pieces stood out above the rest.

With energetic and poignant music performed live by Sekou Alaje and Garno Da Paz (composed by Alaje and Ajai Jackson) and powerful vocals by Rhonda Benin, Kendra Kimbrough Barnes’ excerpt of "Enduring Legacy," based on the death of her mother, combined traditional African dance with modern movement into an abstract retelling of a memory of her mother. Barnes’ choreography never stopped flowing, and her dancers’ (Shelley Davis, Clairemonica Dixon, Kelly Kennard, Latanya Tigner, and Barnes) ability to move from one genre of dance to another was quite impressive.

EmSpace’s Erin Mei-Ling Stuart presented an excerpt of "How to See Red," a work that focuses on consciousness and the attempt to contemplate and understand what goes on inside of our heads. Dressed in costumes by Leigh Anne Martin that resembled an Anthropologie catalog, Stuart’s dancers exuded a physical and emotional professionalism not seen anywhere else during the evening, from each raised arm to the very way they sat Indian-style. Inventiveness, structure, and developed phrases tend to be Stuart’s strengths, and "How to See Red' proved to be a great example. While the overall work is still unfinished, I can’t wait to see the final product, which premieres October, 2005 at Dance Mission.

Heidi Schweiker, a dancer in both Margaret Jenkins’ and Janice Garrett’s dance companies, presented the premiere of "Come Rain," a solo for herself accompanied by an original score by local musician extraordinaire Daniel Berkman. Her directional choices piqued my interest, progressing from sharp and jagged to soft, sensual, and reflective, with focused, deliberate, and thoughtful movements. But "Come Rain" appeared more as a movement study than as a choreographic work.

Nancy Karp’s "Trio Set," performed by Christy Funsch, Diane McKallip, and Anne-Lise Reusswig, felt like a placeholder. Based to some degree on Edward Albee's play "Three Tall Women" and with minimalist movement reminiscent of the early 80s, "Trio Set" focuses on graceful dancing that builds up and then -- POW! -- changes direction and focus. While some aspects are successful, the dancers never quite related to each other. There were three separate entities dancing onstage instead of a trio.

The first work of the evening was by Moving Arts Dance ’s Michael Lowe with the premiere of "Ghost, Life Unfinished," a abstract fictional work that is based on the life and death of Teresa Teng, a popular Chinese folk singer. Lowe attempted to fuse traditional ballet with Chinese folk dance, but the outcome appeared superficial and unclear. I felt uncomfortable watching the work, as though I were looking at pictures of Caucasian women dressed up as an American’s traditional image of a Chinese woman (black bob wig, white face, white cheongsam) with the addition of pointe shoes and much of Lowe’s focus was on actual classical ballet positions and flexed wrists and not on the movements in between. Lowe has received a lot of praise for his choreographic skills, so I hope this work is simply a fluke.

Overall, Program 9 presented some worthy choreography, but I feel that the expansion of the festival has caused some of the quality to be watered down. In each of programs that I saw, there was at least one piece of choreography that was clearly not up to the level of the others. Perhaps the festival needs to revamp how works are selected, who presents on the emerging choreographers’ program, and who presents at all. Even with the below-average selections, I believe that the festival as a whole offers Bay Area choreographers a supportive and intimate forum to present their work. Let's hope it's a little more focused next year.

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