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West Wave Dance Festival

Uni-Form: Ballet

by Katie Rosenfeld

July 26, 2007 -- Project Artaud, San Francisco, California

It is unfortunate that the title for Thursday night’s performance at the West Wave Dance Festival was “Uni-form: Ballet,” as that led the audience to believe there would be some of the traditions of classical ballet on the program. But in none of the five world-premiere pieces presented at the Project Artaud Theater were there pointe shoes or pink tights. In fact, it seemed that the choreographers decided this was their opportunity to take ballet dancers and turn them into avant-garde dance theater artists.

Some pieces were more successful than others, with Les Stuck’s “Digression,” featuring students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, standing out as the most balletic of the evening. The six dancers (Chloe Felesina, Hallie Hunt, Megan Kurashige, Heather McCalden, Daisy Phillips and Miguele de Quandros) stayed on top of the challengingly discordant music admirably. Here were the promenades in attitude, arabesques and pirouettes that were missing from the rest of the evening.

Christopher Burns’ mind-blowing solo “Beneath Your Sheltering Hand” was the least balletic and the most powerful piece of the evening. A robot voice parodied ads for hair removal systems, ergonomic memory foam and other infomercial products while a video of vacation spots and fancy homes rippled across the back scrim. Burns, barefoot and soberly dressed, explored movements that made sense with the soundtrack, at once jerky and computerized but full of anguish. The robot monologue gave way to a gravelly, sinister voice, as intimate as the robot’s was impersonal. While the language was describing a relationship between two people – the controlled and the controller – it could also have been about the world of ballet itself, about the complete devotion required to make it as a dancer, and the impossibility of fully escaping, for better or for worse. These concepts played out in every inch of Burns’ body, as he threw his arms and legs away from his core only to have them rebound back to him.

Viktor Kabaniaev’s “Fragments Of…” showcases Irene Liu’s amazingly flexible body in an angst-ridden solo. As frustration leads her to bang first her fists, then her head, on an invisible door, its lack of response sends her arching backward until her head nearly reaches the ground. While some of the sounds interwoven into the audio landscape, assembled by Nicolas Van Krijdt, jolted the attention away from Liu at times, she performed admirably and filled the space sufficiently.  

“Rogue,” choreographed by Martt Lawrence, establishes the singular loneliness of one woman, especially when surrounded by other dancers. Norma Fong was believably removed from the other dancers, even in her duet with Ken Scott. She scrambled over his much larger frame as though scaling a mountain summit.

Mark Foehringer’s “In Fugue” promised more than it ultimately delivered, although the touches of humor and human emotion were a pleasant change from the overly-abstract rest of the evening. When the seven dancers sauntered to the front of the stage, each in outfits that were more street than studio, there was the promise of personality development that didn’t quite pan out. Part of the problem was the costuming choices, which included leather pants and a tight denim miniskirt. While the outfits added character, they also proved overly constricting, holding the dancers back from being able to dance full-out. Only Katherine Wells’ flowing dress allowed her to show off lovely extensions and classical-esque lines.

While West Wave deserves praise for creating more structured evenings, perhaps next year the groupings can be better communicated to the choreographers, avoiding potential disappointment over what isn’t and allowing otherwise enjoyable pieces to thrive without forced categorization
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