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Kenneth Kvarnström & Co

'Fragile'

by Toba Singer

October 30, 2003 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Kenneth Kvarnström brings us superbly trained, nubile dancers, who work through this hour-long piece with an earnest concentration that does not obstruct feelings of genuine enjoyment of each other or the choreography.

The set is a fragile white stabile, designed by Carouschka, the slender goose neck of which, arches across a third of the stage with a little white oval “head” on one end and two ovals on the other. The set of two ovals could be either bladders or testicles, depending, I guess, on how long you find yourself seated in the audience with your own impatient organs. Before the sultry music by Anders Jacobson and Amon Tobin begins, the dancers appear center stage, on a white square, where they execute a series of gentle lifts, do a bit of mime and offer us a little forspeiss of the full-out production. One of them places a Polaroid photo on the proscenium. The audience can’t see the photo, and so you wonder why so small a prop assumes such great importance. A fluid-moving blonde dancer takes a photo of herself and adds it to what will turn out to be a developing archive of this work. The dancers wear loose pants and non-descript black or beige tops: two men, three women.

As the music comes up, there are a series of gentle lifts that open the bodies up, and then they are restored to their previous poses, almost like taking a book off a shelf, opening it and returning it to its place. Long reaches make the small company look bigger than their number would suggest. We see pantomimes of archers, horseback riders with chassées embellished by those Agnes DeMille cowpoke hip slaps. The stage is often bridged by lifts, rather than jumps. Three women begin a jazz riff that gets smarter and sleeker as the intensity builds into back-riding chassées. While the work is big, it remains safely stylized, taking few risks. As if to counter this trend, dancers occasionally fall backward into the arms of a partner.

The dancers seem to be sculpting themselves and each other as the work progresses. They fold back an elbow, adjust an arm with a hand, or urge something into place that was in some other place. As the tempo picks up, we realize that the first half was to prepare for the second. The new heavy downbeat rhythm could be tantalizing if it were not for the pedestrian transitions that sometimes undercut the work and coax you into seeing something that gets two-dimensional and a little drab around the edges—at times. We are prepared to expect more, but somehow it just stays where it is. A solo by the stronger of the two blondes is sensuous and supple and is supported by a trio of women in canons of spirals on the diagonal. Once the ensemble is moving, a nice tempi is established and we get a springier rhythm and dance to match. Three work against two, and we see the other intended dimensions quite clearly in the solid relationships that are now evinced. The dancers are not fragile now; they are more aggressive and more ritualistic, as the triplet canons become more unitary, solitary, and juiced out by a solid hour of dancing.

The secret here is that Kvarnström has found fluid dancers to absorb and expel the fluidity of his choreography. Their physicality and musicality work to nurture, color and support his work.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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