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Flash Review 1, 4-16: The Evidence is in:
ODC Strong at 30

By Therese Poletti
Copyright 2001 Therese Poletti

SAN FRANCISCO -- Okay, I admit it: I was partially lured to see ODC's "Dancing Downtown" performance Friday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts by the idea of a 30th anniversary party afterwards at the hip W Hotel in San Francisco. Food, drinks and the chance to see some of the company cut loose on the hotel's dance floor appealed to me almost as much as seeing live dance.

It turns out that ODC indeed has something to celebrate, a stellar dance troupe that now thankfully makes its home on the West Coast. Thirty years ago, ODC was founded by Brenda Way at Oberlin College in Ohio, but in 1976 the company relocated to San Francisco.

Since Dance Insider readers have already read a review of ODC's "They've Lost Their Footing," which was also performed recently at New York's Joyce Theater, I will skip that piece which opened Friday's performance with awesome athleticism. In contrast, the third piece on the evening's program, "Spectral Evidence" was more cerebral and dark. It also included a multimedia feature, with an interactive video screen above the stage as part of the storytelling, and a string quartet on stage.

But it was Way's chilling choreography and the haunting moves of the dancers that really told the story of a 19th century French physician, Jean-Martin Charcot, who treated women for hysteria and also photographed them as part of their treatment. But the title, "Spectral Evidence," refers to a term used in the Salem witch trials, for testimony in the trials when a woman was accused of witchcraft by her own specter or ghost.

The piece opens with the Cypress String Quartet performing original music, with the company in period attire, the women in long black skirts and the men in vests and tuxedo shirts, first as still as cameos against the white backdrop, and then slowly waltzing. One woman sits off to the side, apart from the other dancers, on a stool. Then the group moves off to the side, and watches as Tammy Chabowski appears, clad only in her 19th century underwear. The scene is a re-enactment of one of Charcot's Paris salons, where, according to the program notes, he would invite the city's elite to witness his impromptu diagnoses of hysteria.

The eerie dance hints at abuse, mockery and cruelty towards these women, frozen yet wailing, as the cold doctors spread their legs, pick them up and cart them around. Both Monique Strauss and Jenifer Golden let their hair go wildly frizzy, which adds to the frenetic movements they make, when they are freed from the cloying arms of the doctors or as they reach out their arms, open-mouthed but not speaking. The doctors, Brian Fisher and Private Freeman, are efficient and crisp as they take pictures of crazed women, shown above on the video screens, and are truly sinister as they caress them or drag the women by the hair.

This heavy but thought-provoking piece is preceded by the very whimsical "How to Track a Hurricane," a silly romp by co-artistic director KT Nelson. 'Hurricane' begins with Yukie Fujimoto and a very nerdy Fisher, standing on a front row of chairs, dressed in yellow rain slickers. To a song by Dr. John about how to play the blues, they jump onto the stage and the bespectacled Fisher jumps briefly into Fujimoto's arms, as the hurricane seems near.

Then appears the sultry Silfredo La O Vigo, who seems like the devil, mischievous and shirtless in flashy red pants as he first takes the stage alone. Soon, the couple has thrown off their yellow slickers and Fujimoto is freer to romp and dance off both men. One incredibly long pirouette has her white pleated dress flying just like Marilyn Monroe's white dress in "The Seven Year Itch." Fujimoto is obviously torn and playing with both men, but Fisher ends up jumping back in the audience, alone. The final piece, "24 Exposures," could have had fewer exposures, but perhaps it was my stomach grumbling for those party appetizers. Way's choreography in this work, which doesn't really seem to tell a story, is all about showing what the troupe can do, to beautiful Appalachian recordings of Mark O'Connor, Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer. The piece opens with Chabowski standing in the crook of Fisher's back, her other foot on his shoulder. They stand as if in a very long Yoga pose until he suddenly throws her off, into the arms of two other dancers.

The air is spring or summer in this piece, with the women wearing flirty, light summer dresses and the men in colored tank tops. The duets are strong, sensual and athletic, especially between Golden and Levi Toney, as he lifts Golden by her heels. The buoyant mood, after the intense "Spectral Evidence," was a good contrast.

Let's hope that ODC keeps celebrating anniversaries.

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