'LEVYdance,' Premiere by Erika Shuch
August 30, 2003 --
ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA
ODC/San Francisco is in the midst of a big expansion campaign to increase
its services, studio space and the size and ambit of the ODC Theater.
In the spirit of that campaign, it has launched a new program called "House
Special," a showcase for promising choreographers. Brenda Way, ODC's founder,
introduced the first of these programs by sharing ODC's rationale for
deciding to open its arms to new talent outside of the ODC family.
Citing the bi-partisan attacks on arts funding by federal, state and local
government, Way said that ODC hopes to utilize the "House Special" program
to open its doors to the otherwise venueless among a new layer of "evolved
and developed enough" choreographers and dancers. The evening's House
Special's fare offered works by three young and not-quite-so-young choreographers:
Yannis Adoniou, Benjamin Levy, and Erika Shuch.
The program opened with a collaborative work by choreographer and Kunst-Stoff
Artistic Director, Yannis Adoniou, with dance filmmaker, Evann Siebens.
The piece, "The Film:image/Word.not_a_pipe=" is an installation that gives
the audience the rare opportunity to leave its seats in order to appreciate
the work from all available angles. The motif careens -- from the pedestrian
-- to the dourly philosophical. In one part of the installation, there
is a Greek-chorus of veiled, semi-nude dancers, kneeling or standing in
place in front of screened images of San Francisco traffic. The screened
images are interflected with the dancers' spoken words and occasional,
slight shifts within the space. A woman's voice among them recounts the
day of a dancer in San Francisco as he/she makes his/her way to rehearsal
(late) after attending a Greek wedding.
About five yards from them to the northwest stand three dancers at a microphone,
reciting random words, while a bowler-topped man in black, carrying a
black umbrella gives us a few steps of his own and the Magritte-inspired
(or was it “Magrittomania”-inspired?) theme pushes tongue into cheek with
the passing of apples from one male dancer to the next, by hand and mouth,
with the appearance of the bowler man among the screened images. The words
we hear are: "Every man has his folly; it is worse to have no folly at
all. I'm sorting out my own brand of folly." Yes, indeedy.
The crenulated imagery is what works best in this piece. The lighting
is what's worst, because even given the opportunity to circumnavigate,
it is still difficult to really see much of anything. Somewhere
in the middle is the verbiage, which in one instance is embarrassingly
degraded by a nasal just-outside-Chicago accent, and in another, unpardonably
bad French grammar: "These are not breasts" is translated as "Ce n'est
This is a mannered piece, straining with 1990s Thermidor-type affectation.
What the installation is not is readily affirmed by the contrasting
elegance of the pieces that follow.
Next up is “LEVYdance.” Choreographer Benjamin Levy says a word or two
about its origins. He explains how the company's process changed: He used
to set a few steps on the dancers, explore the movement, reverse it or
put a bit of this with a bit of that, and then Levy (who seems too young
to have the words “used to” in his lexicon), decided to switch to the
opposite way of working.
He asked his dancers to have a conversation in movement about the last
time they needed to be held, when there was nobody there to do the holding.
He asked who it was that wasn't there, and what the dancer would express
with movement to that absent, but needed person. "We had been working
from the outside in. With this change, we are now working from the inside
out." Those are the kind of words that "process" maven, Anna Halprin,
would celebrate—especially if she could see the very affecting result
that issued from such a simple instruction.
The movement the dancers found, which Levy made into dances, is organic
and profoundly truthful. In their simple, undulating, naturalist costumes,
the dancers move like amoebas to a kind of depthfinder-sourced music,
composed and performed by Matt Johnson. They fit together like pieces
hot off a jigsaw. They are unlike the members of so many pickup companies.
That is to say they look relatively happy, cared for, cared about, and
on call for the long haul. While the dancers are astonishingly lithe,
there is a noticeable weakness in technique which, mended, could refine
the ensemble's collective line into something rather sublime. In this
performance, they stopped just short of what ought to be the top of a
full extension, and so when a leg comes down it does so just under the
apex of its developpe, gravity winning out over deliberation. Levy and
his company have a guileless style that is fresh and unaffected, and very
welcome in a city where work that is very much the opposite gamely passes
itself off as the coin of the realm.
It is easy to see why the likes of Brenda Way took to the likes of Erika
Shuch. Shuch is way like Way. With an ensemble of 12 better or worse dancers,
Shuch's eye is everywhere and beyond, and she pulls the very best out
of each one. How? She tunes in to the versatility quotient present in
every personality. She builds a path for it through improvisational work.
The piece opens with a thematic device of the dancers measuring their
distances -- quite literally, with a tape measure -- as they would continue
to do at various interludes in a series of vignettes. The first of these
interludes features a two-woman duet, a same-sex send-up of the romantic
song, “So in Love with You am I.” The dancers are accompanied by a smokin'
live band including Pete Hiteman, Will Waghorn, Ruben Rodriguez, Dwayne
Calizo, and among them, an uncredited vocalist, who under normal circumstances
would easily have stolen the show. The female duet slithers, gapes and
lip syncs its way through the gymnastics of sexual hubris, while the remaining
cast runs amok onstage.
Another improv-cum-voice measures its dynamic, drawing the conclusion
that "You are my negative projection," offering a simple take on the many
seemingly inscrutable mysteries of human interactions and behaviors. As
if to emphasize the folly of quantification, the tape measure is brought
out again to measure what can't be measured. This work is rigorous, and
falls apart only when "moments" go a bit long, but those can be edited.
The women partners reprise their roles, this time to give us Labor and
Delivery, where one woman gives birth to the other, who then tries to
crawl back into the womb, laying waste (waist?) to a few Freudian shibboleths
in her passage.
A very beautiful and comedic dancer delivers a monologue in Portuguese,
arguing two sides of the same question until she's whipped herself into
a froth of buffoonery. She is joined by a male dancer, in a deliberate
“wrong” pairing, and through the anomalies that occur in normal human
intercourse, they become tangled up in each other's clothes. Their effort
to extricate themselves from this now-impossible "relationship" is raucously
funny. The ensemble's finale to the downbeat-driven Beatles' "Oh, Darlin'"
sends the house into a special frenzy.
Thanks to ODC for
inviting this mostly new generation of dancers and choreographers, gifted
with improvisational wit and perspective onto its stage. Other venues
should feel duly challenged to follow suit.
Edited by Mary Ellen
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