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West Wave Dance Festival

Amy Seiwert's im'ij-re

by Katie Rosenfeld

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

If Amy Seiwert harbored any secret fear that the all-Seiwert night at this year’s West Wave Dance Festival would play to an empty house, it was alleviated more than an hour before curtain Sunday night. By the time she arrived, all smiles in a summery dress, at Project Artaud Theater, the show was completely sold out, leaving some mainstays of the Bay Area dance family begging for tickets.

The performance lived up to the hype, and the proof was in the applause. The evening was well-constructed, with three shorter, more intimate pieces book-ended by ensemble works. Seiwert’s choreography manages to be both accessible and surprising. Her vocabulary is based in classical ballet, but the steps transcend the traditional to become astonishingly current.

Sunday evening’s offering included two world premieres. The earthy “Carefully Assembled Normality,” which featured the kind of how-did-they-do-that partnering that is signature Seiwert, drew us into the evening with lush, electric movement. It is especially exciting to see Kevin Yee-Chan blossoming among pros like Robin Cornwell, Katherine Wells, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges and Michael Separovich. A quiet moment between Yee-Chan and Wells brought tenderness to an otherwise unemotional, if lovely piece.

The world-premiere of “Double Consciousness,” a solo that Neshyba-Hodges danced with spine-tingling strength, is set to a spoken-word piece by Marc Bamuthi Joseph riffing off W.E.B DuBois’ famous social commentary, which addresses the duality of being black in America. This duality was deepened by the fact that both Neshyba-Hodges and Seiwert are white, as was 99% of the audience.

With 200 years of history echoing in your ears it is hard to imagine one body managing to keep up emotionally, but here the movement and the man brought the power of the words out into full relief. Neshyba-Hodges punctuated Seiwert’s insightful movements with raw integrity, his powerful arms playing the roles of black and white while his head jerked back and forth, watching these two entities with something akin to cautious optimism.

In “Monopoly,” a slightly less obvious social commentary, Erin Yarbrough sizzled as a woman trying to break in to the male-dominated corporate world. Joseph Copley, Carlos Venturo and R. Colby Damon, dressed in suits and ties, were cold and calculating as they wheeled and dealed their way around the stage. Yarbrough started out in a matching suit and tie, a few sizes too big, her perfectly pointed feet just peeking out. Later, in a sassy red dress, she attempted to ensnare Copley, wrapping her legs around him with coy abandon. While “Double Consciousness” speaks of hope, “Monopoly” has an edge of despair to it that diminishes its enjoyment factor slightly.

Seiwert’s creative spirit seems to thrive most when dealing with the interactions between bodies. Breaking away from the flat presentation of basic partnering, she creates positions that are beautiful from all angles, and then shows them to us with the calm, floating energy of a child’s mobile. In “The Melting,” which closed the show, the motifs bubble to the surface and crystallize before flowing on to the next pair. Yarbrough and Copley in particular shone in the section “Into Gas.” In one gorgeous moment, she lay flat on her back, legs stretched to hyperextension, torso rigid. He straddled her, fed one hand under her knees and the other under her spine and lifted her straight up, so she was suspended totally parallel to the floor, dangling off the right angles of his wrists. Just as the improbability of her position registered she released, folding inwards and curving into the waiting warmth of his body.

The 10 dancers in “The Melting” were uniformly energized, every body stretched to its fullest. The duet “Push” contained some of the same shapes but did not reach the same level of cohesiveness. Phaedra Jarrett and Carlos Venturo never quite broke through the normal limits of their bodies, hitting the positions without infusing them with magic.

The West Wave Dance Festival provides choreographers and dancers with the opportunity to perform completed pieces and works-in-progress for a uniquely well-educated audience. This is the 16th year of West Wave’s association with the Project Artaud Theater. The combination of timing (summer can be rather barren for dance) and the participation of many local artists (Seiwert’s group im'ij-re boasts a roster of dancers connected to Smuin Ballet, ODC, LINES Contemporary Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, and that’s just the companies from the 415 area code) makes this event a priority for everyone in the Bay Area dance scene. Seiwert herself is a large presence in the local community, known both as an established dancer and emerging choreographer. It is no surprise, then, that Seiwert’s evening was the hottest ticket in town.

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