Summerfest/dance 2001 Gala Celebration
Cathleen McCarthy's Truth
pressed to earth
Cowell Theater, San Francisco,
By Karen Hildebrand
One point made in Austin Fobord and Shelley Trott's film, Dancers in Exile, is that San Francisco is a place where choreographers come to experiment. And Summerfest/dance has, over the years, become a highly respected vehicle for the result. Though participation in this showcase is by invitation, entries are not juried. What's required is simply that the choreographers make something that pleases them.
As it turns out, "pleasing" is an apt description for the gala celebration show that opened the tenth annual Summerfest/dance Wednesday night. Certainly this audience of mostly dance insiders seemed pleased, but not driven to standing ovations.
Beginning with excerpts from Dancers in Exile, a documentary of San Francisco's rich and comparatively recent modern dance heritage, the evening was a well-wrought showing of dance with a few standouts.
Summerfest organizers Cathleen McCarthy and Joan Lazarus manage to pull off this event each year while juggling various teaching and family responsibilities. This year they also each performed in the show.
McCarthy's Truth pressed to earth has a contained and inward feel. Wearing a hot pink slip dress, she contracts her middle and covers her face with her hands. When she reaches for the sky, she's like the tautly stretched strings of the cello in the accompanying Bach's Sarabande. Every motion is an intention fulfilled.
Lazarus revives a 25-year old piece, Journey, choreographed by Bill DeYoung. In white diaphanous pants, she's like a frothy wave in the ocean of music composed by Chris Houston. But both solos, as impeccably performed as they are, seem pale in comparison to other works on this program
Remy Charlip, on the other hand, shows how truly engaging a solo can be in Meditation, originally created at New York's famed Judson Church where the postmoderns experimented during the sixties. In the focus of a stark spotlight, this elfish elder completely charms us. His hands flutter about his face and torso, smooth out the air in front of his shirt, make the universal sign of "halt." His fingers have conversations with each other. His face goes from mimed delight to hollow sorrow to playful humor, such as when he puckers up and smooches the air, then his arm, and finally his fingers. And all to campy strains of Jules Massenet's Thais.
The dancing shines in a new duet by ODC/San Francisco's co-artistic director, KT Nelson, The Box. Directed by Felipe Sacon, the piece opens with Nelson and Khamia Somphanh sitting crouched in upturned cardboard boxes, possibly symbolic of a contained emotional state as much as homelessness (artistic and otherwise) in San Francisco. One moment both women sit on the floor with straight backs and sprawling legs. As if suddenly sprung from underneath, they bounce up several inches like popped corn, throwing out limbs, first one way then another. Other times they're floating across the stage in lyrical phrases as smooth as a sigh. The piece is emotionally engaging, and what a treat to see Nelson dancing again. In fact, she's such a bright light that Somphanh becomes almost a shadow, an unfortunate result.
Janice Garrett's Otherwise, is an arresting number danced with balletic precision by Kara Davis and Leanne Riggelstein. Unlike Nelson and Somphanh, these women are a perfectly matched duo. In long black dresses slit to the thigh, they don't move more than two feet from each other until toward the end when it's as if the mother (perhaps bird, perhaps human) guides her child to independence. But they continue to relate to each other from a stage-wide distance. The end is particularly striking when the women move in unison, one on her knees downstage while the other stands at the rear.
Less satisfying was Fuse, by Michael Cole. Against a flashing red, then blue scrim, Cole blends crisp Cunningham technique with an African influence. Certainly Cole is a fine dancer, but the choreography will undoubtedly be more interesting when used in the computer animated dance video for which the program states it is intended.
The evening closes with some rousing Taiko drumming in Sue Li-Jue's, The Nature of Nature. Her Asian company, Facing East, and the Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble create a visually pleasing stage. For instance, while the drummers perform, three female dancers sit on the floor and hug the bases of three beautiful drums that are diagonally aligned. The costuming is also a standout with the women wearing a collage of tunics, one with crimped ruffles, one draped in stringy yarn, another dotted with red bobbing balls.
The only real disappointment of the Summerfest Gala is that this program is performed only once. The real meat of Summerfest follows with two programs of work by eleven choreographers presented over two weekends.
Edited by Marie.