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West Wave Dance Festival

Amy Seiwart's im'ij-re

by Mary Ellen Hunt

July 22, 2007 -- Project Artaud Theatre

A hand-scribbled “SOLD OUT” sign and lines of disappointed dance-goers being turned away at the doors of SOMA’s Project Artaud on Sunday night were the first signs that Amy Seiwert and im’ij-re’s much-anticipated one-night-only program was not going to be your average show.

Presented as part of the West Wave Dance Festival’s “4 x 4” series – four evenings showcasing a particularly promising choreographer’s body of work – im’ij-re’s program offered a tantalizing survey of the varied repertoire that Seiwert has gradually constructed as she’s emerged as a major young ballet choreographer in the San Francisco scene.

The evening started with a technical misstep, as Charlie Neshyba-Hodges flew across the stage in the premiere of Seiwert’s “Carefully Assembled Normality.” All the care in the world couldn’t have prepared him for the music failing to start on cue, but unperturbed, he sailed back to the corner, and launched himself again, with an equally accurate repeat of that first diagonal.

Also featuring Tricia Sundbeck, Robin Cornwell and Katherine Wells-- paired with and then scattered amongst Neshyba-Hodges, Michael Separovich and Kevin Yee-Chan— “Normality” explores tenuous relationships in formal almost court dances, as well as more freely intermixed partnering and solos, progressing from the cold blues of a dawn to the sunset hues of late evening, There’s an impression of souls bouncing and jostling up against each other that’s reflected in Kevin Volans’ minimalist string score.

Seiwert trades in the ballet idiom, but she often fragments and melts the classical lines into elongated poses, or quick shifts of position. Arms meet and shoot downward as if spearing something, staccato piques and surefooted jumps merge into folding and unfolding limbs thrown into relief by Cassandra Carpenter’s spare biketards in hues of olives splashed with rust

The breadth and scale of Seiwert’s work-- seen on Sunday for the first time in a single evening-- is pleasingly polished, if not entirely compelling. Another look at her 2002 “Monopoly” -- last seen in the Bay Area on Oakland Ballet-- reveals a still problematic investigation of chauvinism in Erin Yarbrough’s struggle to rise up a pseudo-corporate ladder despite the obstruction of Joseph Copley, Carlos Venturo and R. Colby Damon’s “old boy” network. Yarbrough’s technical grounding is more than secure, but the literality of the piece, set to music by Henrik Gorecki, seems overly simplistic and perhaps a little too moralizing. And her 2004 duet “Push”—an intriguing meditation to atmospheric wind and drum pulses by John Zeretsky – was hampered at this particular performance by a curious lack of depth and detail on Phaedra Jarrett and Venturo, who looked polite rather than alien.

More compelling was Neshyba-Hodges in the premiere of “Double Consciousness,” a brief yet acrobatic solo to a recorded text created and voiced by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Seiwert seemed to step far out of her comfort zone, and yet spoke with forthright and earnest bravado through both the body and voice of a man.

Seiwert’s dancers are an accomplished lot, drawn from all over the Bay Area – Smuin Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Sacramento Ballet. As a group, though, they’ve begun to absorb a detached “closed-off” facial expression that marks many contemporary companies. Nevertheless, the works that hit home are those in which a certain warmth pervades, notably Vanessa Thiessen in “The Melting,” the 2005 commission for Smuin Ballet which closed the program. There’s a tendency in this automatic age for contemporary choreography to take on an automatic look, and one hopes that for the future, im’ij-re will look to its most human side.

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