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Going, Going, Gone!

Armitage Gone! Dance

by Becca Hirschman

October 13, 2007 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Summer is officially hidden away by San Francisco's fall-time fog, which means that dance season is finally here. With a two-day engagement hosted by San Francisco Performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Armitage Gone! Dance, a New York-based company led by Karole Armitage, kicked off my dance calendar this past weekend. But alas, the kick proved to be more of a poke and the anticipated bang resembled a sigh.

Armitage, who danced for Balanchine, Cunningham, and others before spending a few decades across the pond (and no, not in Oakland, but in Europe), rests on what she knows – ballet vocabulary – and her two works, “Ligeti Essays” and “Time is the echo of an axe within a wood,” display this. But pairing ballet steps and a tinge of modern dance together, a ballet you do not make, Yoda might say, and this was the case last Saturday night.

“Ligeti Essays,” reminiscent of modern versions of Balanchine's “Stars and Stripes,” “Rubies,” and “The Four Temperaments,” featured the company with taped music and vocals by composer György Ligeti. Even with the women costumed in basic black leotards and belts and the men in ill-fitting ankle hitting black pants, tanks, and socks, the seven dancers outshined the work by far – kicking, jumping, and pirouetting with grace and power.

The choreography, though, suffered immensely, never growing quite past the superficial stage of the “boy meets girl” aspect of steps and positions. The dancers looked disinterested throughout the intermingling of solos, duets, and group work, even with cool blue lights illuminating their feet and the steely silver tree randomly positioned in the background. Perhaps their thoughts were focused more on the international roller derby championships taking place across the city; it sure would have been more exciting.

“Time is the echo of an axe within a wood,” set to music by Béla Bartók, somewhat improved upon the first half. Strands of sparkly beads hung from the ceiling, creating a box-like effect around the stage, and the dancers were dressed in (again ill-fitting) leotards of gold, silver, and bronze. With softer lighting and more developed movement, the dancers appeared more focused, but again, the choreography left little to be desired. Moving to the beat became monotonous after awhile, and the work’s only saviors were the company's impressive dancers: Leonides D. Arpon, Matthew Branham, Frances Chiaverini, Theresa Ruth Howard, William Isaac, Ryan Kelly, and Mei-Hua Wang.

This performance left me speechless, and not in a good way. Armitage has a small army of well-trained dancers at her fingertips and decades of dance and performance under her belt, but can't seem to use them to her advantage. Perhaps she's not meant to be a choreographer. And really, is that such a bad thing?

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