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West Wave Dance Festival

Amy Seiwart/im'ij-re Mixed Bill

by K. Olive McKeon

July 22, 2007 -- Project Artaud Theater, San Francisco, CA

Contemporary ballet choreographer Amy Seiwert presented five short ballets, two of which were world premieres, at San Francisco’s Westwave Dance Festival on Sunday, July 22. Director of her pick-up company im’ij-re and dancer with the Smuin Ballet, Seiwert’s work ranged from solos and duets to large group dances. Spanning all of the evening's pieces was her sharp and decisive take on classical form. Amidst a traditional ballet vocabulary, Seiwert inserts staccato, angular movements that operate as a counterpoint to the soft curves of ballet lines. The result is a more complicated and precise version of the technique. The dancers must tie themselves in knots before opening into a simple leg extension. They must maneuver their arms through a rhythmic puzzle before they can reach their next arabesque.

In the range of contemporary ballet choreography, Seiwert veers toward the classical end of the spectrum. The evening of work never paused the continuity of pure dance nor dared to lift a hip or sickle a foot. All of the pieces stayed within the conventions and confines of male/female partnering. Seiwert’s domain of expertise and experimentalism is in the timing, phrasing, and details between the lavish extensions and sharp pirouettes.

Opening the evening was “Carefully Assembled Normality,” a world premiere for by six dancers to a score by Kevin Volans. Offering rich earth tones in the costuming and the lighting, the ballet used momentum and swing in its idiosyncratic partnering which made frequent use of lifting the women off the floor with their legs in second position. While still classical in tone, Seiwert played with floor work and swinging transitions between movements.

 “Monopoly” addressed sexism in the workplace with a heavy, overt hand. The quartet of three men and one woman wore business suits and repeated the motif of shaking hands and nodding as if over a business deal. As might be expected, the male dancers pushed the female dancer to the side and ignored her. About halfway through the piece, the woman left the stage and returned in a blood red evening gown. To conclude the piece, one of the men entertained her with a pas de deux, sweeping and supporting her into expansive poses. From the sequence of the events, the moral of the ballet appears to be that men pay more attention to women if they closely follow their gender role. The piece addresses gender dynamics with a superficiality and narrow lens that does not incorporate the minute workings of intersectionality and difference. It also fails to notice how its own adherence to convention is embedded with the patriarchy of traditional ballet.

The brief duet “Push” danced by Phaedra Jarrett and Carlos Ventura showed the most interpersonal subtlety of the evening. With a visual design of black unitards and squares of white lighting across the stage, the duo weaved in and out of twisted embraces. The piece maintained an unchanging pacing and tone ending without a sense of transformation from the opening image of the piece. Immediately following is “Double Consciousness,” a solo for Charlie Neshyba-Hodges to a spoken word poem by Marc Bamuthi Joseph referencing racism, W. E. B. Debois, and the African-American experience. The dance switched between showcasing Neshyba-Hodges’ technical feats and illustrating the text (holding up two hands in the air at the phrase “double consciousness” and a bouncing hand gesture at “hip hop”). While easily the stand out dancer of the evening, his movements came across as unrelated to the subject matter. Had the poem been silenced, his stunning jumps and floor work would have had nothing to do intrinsically with race or identity. Seiwert made no gesture within the piece to address the danger of white folks speaking for African-Americans, especially without a single African-American dancer in the program.

The final piece “The Melting” illustrated with ten dancers the process of ice moving to a gaseous state set to the music of Evelyn Glennie. Through a series of partnered duets, Seiwert explored the interactions of water molecules as well as human bodies. By this point in the evening, the crisp technical execution of the dancers lacked dimension and variety. While the pieces changed in tone, pacing, and density, the technical range remained the same throughout the evening hovering near virtuosic ballet. An audience can see only so many quadruple pirouettes before it becomes numb to the technique. “The Melting,” as with the other pieces presented, cannot be faulted for its decisive command of ballet. While the immediate experience of watching a soaring leap or a lingering pirouette draws gasps, does technical execution affect or matter to an audience weeks after a performance?

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