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David Dorfman Dance - 'underground'

by Becca Hirschman

Sepember 23 , 2006 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, California

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts kicked off its new Worlds Apart series with the Bay Area premiere of David Dorfman Dance’s “underground.” Using the 1960s Chicago activists’ the Weathermen as an impetus, “underground,” at a tight 50-minutes, provides an introspective look at the fine line between protest and terrorism, the feeling of apathy, and how each of us makes a difference today and in the future.

While Dorfman is a master of dance, he’s also a leader of incorporating movement and ideas into complex performance works, and “underground” is no different. Combining dance, song, text, and video documentary, Dorfman has created a thought-provoking work. His organization of bodies on stage may seem chaotic, but it is purposeful as well. Dorfman often places his dancers into clusters or lines, perhaps in representation of groups of protesters versus army units lining up for battle. Dancers march in circles, reminding us of the continuous need for action, and they often do this in pairs, riding home the idea that if we support each other, we may be more successful. This idea creeps up again from time to time, from the leaning on someone to pushing or encouraging them to stand up for their beliefs. Circles carry over into the more choreographed movement, with dancers performing hip swivels, spinning lifts, and turns with a sense of freedom and abandon.

Text and imagery play an important part in the “wholeness” of this work. At one point, Karl Rogers asks questions of the artists, and depending on their responses, they dance forward or back, somewhat like an icebreaker you might play at college orientation. Throughout “underground,” the use of a raised arm, a hand, takes on profound significance as both a form of participation and a request to stop, and dancers speak the word “now” in a whisper and a shout, emphasizing that our decisions at this exact moment affect everyone else to some degree. Jonathan Bepler’s score proves varied and moving, similar to a heartbeat at times and others like a lullaby rocking a baby to sleep.

One additional feature of “underground” is the use of local dancers as the corps. The dancers seemed competent and well rehearsed, and they blended nicely with the company’s performers.

The title “underground” seems to fit the work perfectly, and not just because of Sean Green’s Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Weatherman Underground.” This “underground” represents where we plant our roots and how we gain the nutrients to grow and survive. Can we grow if we stay silent? And if we have no roots, no convictions, no feelings or beliefs, do we then default to apathetic indifference?

The company’s post-performance discussion was particularly enlightening and many audience members from the full house stayed. Of particular note was how to move “underground” forward and have it seen by more audiences, and how to gain corporate support for such a controversial work. (Interestingly, David Dorfman’s presentation at YBC was sponsored by United Airlines.)

David Dorfman Dance will next perform “underground” October 28th, 2006 at Connecticut College’s Palmer Auditorium.

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