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San Francisco Bay Area Roundup

Review of Summer 2011 Performances

by Heather Desaulniers

Joe Goode Performance Group - "The Rambler" (world premiere)
Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Mary Armentrout Dance Theater – “the woman invisible to herself”
The Biscuit Factory, Oakland, CA

Post:Ballet – “Seconds”
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA

Napa Valley Festival Del Sole – “Stars of American and Russian Ballet”
Lincoln Theater, Yountville, CA

The New Ground Theatre Dance Company – “Terrain Project Performance”
an Arts Unity Movement Production
Notre Dame de Namur University Theater, Belmont, CA

Stepology presents “The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange”
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA

Summer 2011:
June 18th
- Encounter; excitement; escape - these are the themes that swirl through "The
Rambler", the newest work by the Joe Goode Performance Group. As always, Goode's
transmission of the chosen narrative was both clever and clear, though the highlight of
this particular piece was the chance to finally experience his choreographic brilliance.
The Joe Goode Performance Group has a flair and talent for the dance theater style, and
they do it well. However, the additional or 'other' theatrical elements tend to receive
primary focus, overshadowing and sometimes even overpowering the dance portions.
Here, choreography took center stage as a focal point, but not to the detriment of the
singing, acting and design. "The Rambler" simply revealed and amplified the dancing as
an equal partner in Goode's artistic pursuit.

"The Rambler" sought to give a complete examination of 'wandering' (both allure
and disconcertion) and introduce three sets of characters (the rambler, those who the
rambler leaves behind and those who the rambler has yet to meet). Initially, we saw an
exhilarating journey through space's expanse flowing out from the legs, arms, head, even
at times, from the elbows. The choreographic extensions continued far past the point of
the toes and the span of the fingers - no stopping; no ending point. This really provided
a romantic sensibility of the undiscovered; the beyond; the unknown. Yet, at the same
time, wandering was not always a freeing adventure. In one of the final scenes, the cast
walked around the stage aimlessly, constantly changing direction. No one was able to
articulate what they wanted and their meandering led nowhere, solved nothing, and failed
to meet their desires.

The various vignettes were accomplished through an ingenious design of moving scrims
and travelers - a very organic evolution where each scene of "The Rambler" blended into
the next. Beginnings and endings were avoided in favor of constant motion, a metaphor
for the never-ending wandering that we do in our lives.

July 10th - Dance is such a fleeting entity; it only exists for a brief moment and then it is
gone. Memory, photos and video can provide some archival records but they can never
truly capture or re-capture the specialness of live performance. This impermanence
is very apparent to me when seeing the same dance, in the same venue with the same
cast for a second time. Whether the piece is unchanged or if it features new/revamped
choreography, the takeaway is that no two performances are ever identical. Mary
Armentrout Dance Theater's second run of "the woman invisible to herself" at The
Biscuit Factory in Oakland facilitated an encounter with the familiar alongside different
experiences and new observations.

My initial sense of the piece was verified and confirmed in this, my second exposure
to "the woman invisible to herself". Here, Armentrout has combined true post-modern
form with strong narrative content, revealing important nuances about egalitarianism,
non-conformity and the porous border between life and art. Much of the dance resonated
again with these concepts, though it was interesting to discover aspects of the work that
I had missed the first time around, which spoke equally to and of Armentrout's artistic
mission.

Two of the pre-performance installations were infused with egalitarianism and succeeded
in blurring the lines between life and art. A video segment of Armentrout revealed truths
about herself while also posing real questions to the viewer, creating a participatory
equality between the performer and the audience. Another pre-performance segment
found the dancers in one of the hallways working with the interplay of light, shadow,
form and movement. This hypnotic sequence was a lesson in accessibility, demonstrating
the ease in which an everyday gesture can morph into dance. The suggestion here was
that every movement (common or choreographed) has an inherent energy to it and it is up
to each individual to find, unlock and harness this simmering electricity.

The choreography brilliantly articulated "the woman invisible to herself's" unique
approach to structure and story. In the mirror vignette, arms followed circular pathways
while the head was in constant motion - a physical comment that personality and the
self is a changeable idea. The individual performances in the mobile second scene (‘in
the realm of the selves’) all contained new revelations for me. Armentrout's solo had
no stopping point; it was a stream of consciousness constructed like a Baroque fugue.
Interdependent lines of movement arose from every point of physicality and wove a
truly polyphonic texture. Frances Rosario also challenged the space between audience
and performer by not only speaking directly to us, but also interacting choreographically
with us. Nol Simonse's sequence was a study of opposites: suspension & fall; stretch
& flexion; exposure & hiding; expanse & closure; attachment & detachment. Lastly,
Natalie Greene embodied the notion of being off-balance, and we witnessed her desperate
search for the serenity of calm.

July 16th - After Post:Ballet's inaugural performance last summer at the Cowell Theater,
I wrote, "Post:Ballet is going to be a group to watch over the next decade". This past
weekend's follow-up season proved this comment to be an understatement. Artistic
Director, Robert Dekkers and his company offered a gorgeous "Seconds" program: two

pieces returned from 2010, "Flutter" and "Happiness of Pursuit" (establishing a lineage of
repertory) in addition to two world premieres, "Colouring" and "Interference Pattern" (the
creation of new work). This company's future looks brilliant - Post:Ballet is fantastic and
a must-see for every ballet patron in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The first two pieces on the program were a testament to Dekkers' choreographic acumen
and collaborative fervor. "Colouring" illustrated that repetition is the heartbeat of
artistic collaboration. As Daniel Berkman performed his own musical composition, the
dancers moved back and forth in the same pattern, meeting in the middle of the stage
for a short choreographic sequence and then returning to their starting positions. While
both the music and dance were happening, visual artist Enrique Quintero was creating a
visualscape (white paint on a black background). As the piece continued, the movement
phrase accumulated into a beautiful pas de deux while Quintero's scene also grew from
simple lines and shapes into a cohesive picture. Here, Dekkers and Quintero were both
visually reflecting the true experience of artistic collaboration. Hours and hours of
working together may not always generate a vast quantity but the repetition does produce
quality material. Trying and risking over and over again reveals meaning and relevance
between the chosen arts. Quintero's final painting was the epitome of this collaborative
journey. A long white horizontal line separated the view into two spaces, with a very
minimal expression on top of the line and a very ornate and involved tableau beneath the
line. Art's pulse and driving force is what happens beneath the surface, behind the scenes
and before the stage.

Post:Ballet revisited "Flutter" (2010) again this season, though this time Dekkers opted
to set the work on Daniel Marshalsay, Jonathan Mangosing and Christian Squires (last
year this ballet was danced by three women). With this significant casting change, one
would expect that "Flutter" would read differently. True, it was different, not better, not
worse, but allowed a second and unique exposure to a familiar piece. The polyphonic
interplay of his movement lines had a new attack; the intonation was more forceful, yet
not at all aggressive. The articulation that Christian Squires has in his torso is amazing -
he is able to understand his physicality as both dance and music. One thing that remained
consistently true about "Flutter" was Dekkers' intuitive musicality; his knowledge of
musical form and his ability to manifest his musical understanding into his choreography.

Dekkers has assembled an impressive group of dancers: all are technically sound,
artistically mature and compelling to watch. But Beau Campbell deserves particular
acknowledgement for her accomplishment in "Seconds". As a dance artist with
Post:Ballet in both this and last year's season, she has clearly been pursuing, developing
and honing the performance side of her art. Campbell's technical strength was and is
without question, but she seems to know and realize that flawless technique is only one
part (albeit a crucial one) of the performance equation. Her theatrical diligence is paying
off - she absolutely shone onstage.

July 22nd - The promise of a dance gala is that of something special. The gala suggests
more than a regular performance; it is celebrity; distinction and majesty. And, when the
title is 'Stars of American and Russian Ballet', one might anticipate even more opulence.

Napa Valley Festival Del Sole's 2011 Dance Gala did not disappoint. Dancers from
American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet
treated the packed house to a performance of a lifetime.

Act I provided a perfect mix of ballet works by Marius Petipa, George Balanchine,
August Bournonville and Yuri Possokhov. Possokhov's dramatically charged "Talk to
her" was the evening's choreographic highlight and the audience favorite. Lorena Feijoo
and Vitor Luis danced this daring pas de deux on the dynamic and technical edge, the
risky place where true magic happens. Utilizing Feijoo's pointe shoes as purposeful
percussion was a fantastic touch. Irina Dvorovenko (American Ballet Theatre) was
brilliant in the Black Swan pas de deux - perfectly alluring and devious at the same
time. Her staccato approach to the choreography was an impeccable match for this
character whose sole purpose is to captivate and capture the Prince's attention. The
Bolshoi Ballet's "La Sylphide" was good though I think I'm a bit spoiled after just having
seen The Royal Danish Ballet in this historic piece. The lightness and airiness that
Bournonville demands was definitely present with the Bolshoi dancers, but it just wasn't
quite as entrenched in the physicality as it is with the Royal Danish company. There was
too much emphasis on height and technique and not enough attention to the articulation,
quality and intonation of the steps.

The Bolshoi opened the second act with the adagio and trio from "The Oath of Ushers"
and this ballet was both perfect for them and perfectly danced by them. Marianna
Ryzhkina's boureés traveling backward gave an astonishing crescendo of urgency,
emotion and intensity. Their interpretation and performance of Vladimir Vasiliev's
choreography was beautifully artistic and very emotive - just stunning. The pas de deux
from "Les Sylphides" demonstrated the forgotten art of repetition. Fokine's repeated
use of boureé and relevé takes one back to the intricate foundations of classical ballet.
Feijoo and Luiz returned in the pas de deux from "Le Corsaire", and though a little shaky
at first, they quickly found their bearings and proceeded to give flawless individual solo
variations in the coda section.

The two Balanchine works on the program ("Diamonds" pas de deux from "Jewels" and
the pas de deux from "Agon") were danced by masters of Balanchine technique: New
York City Ballet's Charles Askegard and Wendy Whelan. From the incredibly difficult
fouettés to the off-balance poses and spins to the complex musical attack, they were the
essence of Balanchine. In his work, dance, itself is the star and this vision is exactly what
was communicated to the audience at the Lincoln Theater. However, I must admit that
I found both of these excerpts to be too cold and detached. Whelan and Askegard were
technically superior, but in terms of performance, it really was a little sanitized.

August 6th - The New Ground Theatre Dance Company's "Terrain Project Performance"
demonstrated a skillful use of narrative mechanisms. A triptych work, "Terrain
Project Performance" unfolded as follows: first, a woman's medical crisis; second, the
explanation of how she arrived in that situation; and third, her heroic and freeing choice
that creates a new life. Artistic Director Coleen Lorenz has produced a dance theater
piece that reveals how women can empower themselves to both own and determine thei
reality and future.

The opening scene revealed the five main characters at the beginning of their day, each
going through their individual routines to ready themselves for what may lie ahead.
Here we saw stylized choreography (not a post-modern pedestrian expression of daily
activities) and one could see the adjectives of each character through their movements:
frustration, excitement, complacency and fear. Though a small portion of "Terrain
Project Performance", this introductory scene was imperative - it set up who the major
players were and the emotions that they carried inside of them.

Interspersed throughout the dance were video sequences of women's faces (primarily
the eyes) and audio clips of them speaking. Projected onto the back scrim, these images
spoke to Lorenz's goal: to provide a glimpse and insight into another's experience,
understanding and condition.

The group sections were good and the dancers at Notre Dame De Namur University are
receiving excellent and varied training (many of the cast are alumni or current students).
However, all university dance programs have a similar issue that has to be acknowledged,
and that is the wide variance in technical level. This does not always present a problem
unless the choreography in question contains quite a bit of unison work as "Terrain
Project Performance" did. When placed in unison, the technical differences between
the dancers becomes overly emphasized and therefore can look a little messy (legs at
different heights, jumps of different clarity, etc.). Steering away from unison is a better
plan.

August 19th - The true test of an annual show is in its ability to preserve tradition while
at the same time being able to produce something distinct, especially when many of the
performers are the same each year. Stepology's 2011 presentation of "The Bay Area
Rhythm Exchange" celebrated the talent, diversity and energy of percussive dance with
a plethora of style, interpretation and approach. Though this event happens yearly in the
Bay Area, the 2011 edition was unique and fabulous.

The headliners gave fantastic solo performances: John Kloss' taps were incredibly
clear and his toe-heel combinations were super-human; Mark Mendonca is not only an
amazing dancer, but also has the most easy, laid-back rapport with his audience. For me,
the stand-out performer was Sam Weber. His upright, balletic style (almost like Merce
Cunningham in tap shoes) differentiated him from the rest of the group, with tap sounds
that had a much wider variance and dynamic spectrum. Everyone else favored and
tended toward the harsher, louder 'down' into the floor choreography and so, most of their
solo work seemed very much the same. Weber's approach allows him more freedom and
increased versatility and as a result, his solos had intricacies that no one else could top.

The floor mikes were hugely improved this time around; they picked up all the highs
and lows of the choreography and movement, which for tap, is imperative. Having said
that, I still find it strange that Stepology chooses this particular venue for its annual
showcase. The Herbst Theatre is beautiful but the pitch of the seats does not provide a
good viewing angle of the dancer's feet. Rhythm tap is just as much of a visual artform
as it is audio and if you cannot see the feet, much of the performance is lost. Also, the
audience size was certainly a disappointment on Friday night. At the 2010 "Bay Area
Rhythm Exchange", the house was completely packed and full of anticipation, excitement
and awe. This year, the Herbst Theatre was less than half full - quite a let down for such
an exhilarating performance
.


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