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Amy Seiwert & Sean Dorsey

ODC's Migrations: 'Hero,' 'Red Tie, Red Lipstick,' 'less-ness,' 'Passive Aggression'

by Rachel Howard

April 26, 2003 -- ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA

The latest “Migrations” at ODC Theater was one of those events where the audience might have proved as interesting as the dancing. Saturday’s sold-out performance drew stars from Smuin, Oakland, and San Francisco Ballets, out in force to support the work of Amy Seiwert, a member of the Smuin troupe who unveiled her abundant talent to the Bay Area during last July’s West Wave Festival. Mingling among the ballet A-list was the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered community, on hand to cheer the work of butch choreographer Sean Dorsey.

It was a night of revealing juxtapositions. This was ballet up-close and laid bare, the dancers’ seemingly unending lines boxed within ODC’s tight confines. And this was transgendered dance, if Dorsey’s path-finding style can be so crudely reduced, playing to a decidedly wider audience than your typical Tranny showcase. Both choreographers’ work looked slightly out of context, and all the stronger for it, not about to be upstaged by the people-watching opportunities.

Dorsey is tall with a wide pelvis, modest chest, and beautifully muscled yet fluid arms. I once interviewed Dorsey for a newspaper article and asked what gender pronoun he’d like me to use in reference to him; he asked me to use “he” and “she” randomly, a logistical impossibility, editorially, but a request whose spirit is well-received. His work, like his use of pronouns, is potentially trailblazing, most obviously so in the opening dance “Hero,” when Dorsey’s character contemplates a personal ad placed by a shirtless beefcake cowboy (Ami Student) riding a clearly phallic toy-horse-on-a-stick.

Neither does subtlety reign during “Red Tie, Red Lipstick,” a story of one butch (Dorsey), one femme (Linda Case), and one heartbreaking night of police brutality. The text is by Marcus Rene Van, and it could have easily subsumed the dancing were it not for the deep intimacy and sensuality between Dorsey and Case as they glided across the floor in a tender postmodern tango.

But Dorsey is at his most promising when not delivering a blatant message, as in his solo “a small class of words.” The text, compiled by Dorsey and set to electronic music by Ben Neill, lists bird species, their habitats, and pronouns. Dorsey moves in a tightly circumscribed cross of light--a compass, perhaps, with its four cardinal points -- with arms so strong yet strangely undulating above a well-grounded stance. The legs could move more -- the occasional extension looks self-conscious, out of place -- and Dorsey is short on development, treating phrase material more like loops than building blocks.

But Dorsey’s style is not about a woman proving her strength with pounding moves, as in the case of Krissy Keefer’s militant Dance Brigade. It is something else altogether, a deeply personal refraction of the masculine through the feminine.
Dorsey is creating a new kind of lesbian dance.

Amy Seiwert, meanwhile, is steadily inching towards finding her place within a classical tradition in which female choreographers are rare. “less ness,” the program’s premiere, gave new evidence of Seiwert’s ample dancemaking chops: a facility for twisty, surprising pas de deux, an understanding of stage space and the tension that can be carved from it, and an ability to build enigmatic yet compelling relationships between dancers in abstract works.

Mystery hung thick in the air as stocky Charlie Neshyba-Hodges covered the face of towering Ilana Goldman with a white shroud that soon became a wrist-binding. Pleasure and pain commingled while three dancers stood sentry, then dispersed to reappear in duets of their own. Just when you thought Seiwert had exhausted the ways to combine her eight dancers, new possibilities would materialize. But clichéd religiosity -- arms reaching wide to heaven, women carried like icons upon the men’s shoulders -- sometimes overshadowed invention.Mario Alonzo designed the sleek, selectively see-through costumes.

“Passive Aggression,” a short quartet, was less ambitious but pretension-free. Danced to J. Nathan’s pounding techno music in a pool of light, it injected “Agon”-like duets with a healthy dose of floor-work and Twyla Tharp-ian stop-go phrasing. Lynlee Towne climbed atop Neshyba-Hodges’s flexed calves and thighs, then shot into a wide second position as her partner jumped over her beautifully pointed feet and collected her between his legs. Partners stopped to roar at each other, flexed hands shooting from wide silent mouths, as the broken soundscape pulsed on. Towne gave a solo packed with turns that was as unexpectedly pretty as it was risk-taking.

Seiwert is calling her upstart company im-ij-re; let’s hope she hangs on to the dancers and ditches the name. Neshyba-Hodges, a Sacramento Ballet member who danced in Marin last fall with Twyla Tharp’s troupe, is one of the wonders of the ballet world -- incredibly centered, built like a bulldog and yet able to create clear lines with his wonderfully turned-out legs and marvelously arched feet. He has an easy confidence and lack of inhibition that belies his unorthodox ballet frame. And he was in good company Saturday. “less ness” featured LINES Ballet’s Brett Conway, Oakland Ballet’s Phaedra Jarrett and Ilana Goldman, ODC’s Brian Fisher, and Sacramento Ballet’s Tricia Sundbeck and Lynlee Towne. A rapidly developing choreographer like Seiwert couldn’t ask for more daring accomplices.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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