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ODC San Francisco

Intelligence, Wit and Beautiful Dancing

by Cecly Placenti

October 14, 2005 -- Joyce Theatre, New York City

Rendering social and political issues and abstract concepts in dance is a perilously tricky endeavor. The body is able to communicate the spectrum of human emotion and the connectivity of human relationships relatively easily, but is ill suited to the subtleties of abstraction and reason. A choreographer may be able to choreograph the complicated emotions between two lovers, for example, but a dancer could not dance the concept of a husband. Yet that is precisely the task choreographer Brenda Way of ODC San Francisco tackled in her new piece “On a Train Heading South.” With a pleasing combination of wit, humor, ominous warning and hopeless sadness, Way addresses the pressing issue of our nation’s social complacency and willfully ignorant attitude toward our environment and the issue of global warming.

 “Train” is visually and emotionally arresting from the opening curtain--as the lights come up on a coolly lit stage, the audience is mesmerized by twelve blocks of ice suspended from the ceiling and dripping on the company’s eleven dancers who are clumped in the downstage left corner. As the group began to dance and the lights transformed the ice into diamonds, aquamarines and sapphires, it was clear that there was one female outsider--akin to the Trojan princess Cassandra in Greek mythology--who was frightened and alarmed by what was happening. In Greek mythology, Apollo awards Cassandra the gift of prophecy, but when she refuses his sexual advances, curses her so that her predictions fall on deaf ears. This Cassandra figure, danced with chilling emotional power by Anne Zivolich, was analogous to the scientists who for years have been predicting the effects of global warming on our environment. Yet her curse was clear. As she frantically attempted to warn her fellow dancers, she was pushed aside, manhandled in thrilling lifts, chased away and ignored.

Way may be rightfully outraged at our sense of entitlement and arrogance which makes us believe we have a right to exploit all the natural resources on this planet without developing a sense of global community and well-being, but she does see the absurdity and dark humor in the same citizenry that given the urgency of so many local and global issues, chooses to pass such laws as those recently passed against wearing baggy pants! Throughout the piece, some of man’s major distractions parade across the stage, separated and distilled to show their innate preposterousness: two men running by in bridal veils point the finger at our obsession with gay marriage; one woman walking across the stage on tip-toe holding out a blue dress while others slouch and shuffle blindly behind her alludes to the Monica Lewinsky scandal; a male dancer running across the stage wearing pants that are down past his bright white underwear as hip-hop music is spliced into the commissioned score by Jack Perla. Sporting event sounds and stock market news can also be heard interspersed in the score along with distorted segments of President Bush speaking to sound like a stutter. These are the blown-up, irrelevant news stories that keep a complacent populace from focusing on real issues, and Way managed to use them in very poignant and simple ways. The piece wound to a close, and the images the audience is left with are startling and frightening: a group of dancers upstage right frozen under the dripping water, a man suspended in the arms of another as he moves his limbs like he’s trying to swim, and another man belly-crawling off-stage as the word “money” is repeated in the score as it fades with the lights.

The intelligence of “Train” was not the only thing that made ODC San Francisco excite and impress me. ODC’s innovation, athleticism, technical versatility and cohesiveness were astounding, and the work’s passion and intellectual depth moved me. The sophistication of the choreographic structures and relation to three very different scores in one evening was breathtaking and extremely pleasing to watch.

In KT Nelson’s “RingRoundRozi,” the counterpoint and syncopation with the music was very organic and exciting. The groups of dancers meshed together seamlessly, like leaves being picked up by currents of air. A dancer from one group would suddenly join another group passing by, and the movement shifts were subtle and organic, like a kaleidoscope. The eye was always being drawn to different places, and the partnering proved to be incredibly unique and natural, evolving out of the movement so effortlessly it seemed the perfect and only thing to do at each moment. “RingRoundRozi” is a compelling, innovative piece that treads a fine balance between highly controlled physicality and thrilling kinetic abandon.

Second of the evenings three dances was Brenda Way’s “24 Exposures.” A highly dramatic piece, “24 Exposures” was full of thrills and surprises, its daredevil partnering and superhuman leaps and turns melded easily with freeze-frame stillness and natural gesture. The mood was volatile and fun, yet safe and trusting. The visually commanding opening was surprise at its finest. Tiny and powerful, Anne Zivolich balanced on Brian Fisher’s back, one foot on his shoulder and the other on the small of his back as he rose from a crouched to a standing position. They held this precarious pose for an unnerving amount of time, until she suddenly vaulted off forcefully and over a shockingly far distance into the arms of two other dancers, who never projected to the unsuspecting audience that they were even looking at Fisher and Zivolich! The company, widely recognized for its fusion of ballet and modern techniques, displayed impeccable timing, precision, cleanliness and a confident understanding of the music and their relationship to it. “24 Exposures” was like a fireworks display- quick and brilliant, leaving an impression in the mind that the eye almost missed. The dancers mimicked and played with the cello and other string instruments, and their energy never flagged in this non-stop exuberant piece.

If you are looking for a socially and politically intelligent company that delivers its wit and commentary in explosive and daring choreography, or if you are simply looking to see dance that is visually lovely, clean and perfectly musical, then ODC San Francisco should not be missed.

 

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