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Flash Review 2, 5-29: Less is More
Too Much of the Same from Garrett

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2001 Aimee Ts’ao

SAN FRANCISCO -- Like most people, masochists excepted, I hate being disappointed. I had seen Janice Garrett's choreography before in two Summerfest performances and had been sufficiently impressed by her talent that I was eagerly awaiting the chance to see an entire evening of her work, a first-time event for San Francisco. One of the dancers told me how wonderful it was to work with Garrett, and I had also noted a cast with many truly excellent dancers. I was set to have an amazing experience. In retrospect, I should have let the jaded critic in me prevail and gone to the ODC Theater this weekend with a "show me that you're better, different and really unique" attitude.

So in the end my inner critic gets to have the last word, despite my wishing I could have had nothing but praise to sing. There were basically two main problems with the Janice Garrett & Dancers concert. First, it was too long and second, the pieces were all too similar in terms of the actual choreography. Unfortunately these two aspects created a less than ideal atmosphere in which to observe the dances.

The show opened with the San Francisco premiere of "A Year and a Day." The cast of 14 seemed far too many for the space at ODC Theater and there were clearly two levels of technical and artistic expertise on the part of the dancers. It would have been wiser to stick with the better dancers and have a smaller cast and perhaps put this large group piece at the end of the evening. Still, there were many things about it I enjoyed. Garrett has a real flair for making interesting floor patterns and moving the dancers in and out of them. What began as a large square with the dancers all facing center ended up as a group of four rows tightly packed into center stage as the sides folded in and rotated, paired up with the front and back lines and moved in together. Garrett's use of gestural dance vocabulary is both her strength and weakness. While she is very inventive, and the movements often speak on two levels, this type of quirkiness grows tiring after while. Perhaps by mixing in other textures of movement or changing the rhythm and pacing she would find a better balance.

Garrett also has a sense of humor that pops up often in the nick of time to save a section from being overly serious. However, a quartet of women grunting and groaning to a score by Christopher Benstead comprised of the same sounds was far too literal for me and felt like an easy attempt at cheap laughs.

Bringing together some of the Bay Area's best dancers and making them look like they've worked together in what was basically a pick up company is a real achievement for which Garrett deserves acknowledgment. The rapport between the dancers and with the audience was warm and generous, and could only have come from a working situation where everyone got support and good direction. I particularly noticed Tristan Ching, Kara Davis, Todd Eckert, Jenifer Golden, Dana Lawton, Leanne Ringelstein, Heidi Schweiker and Heather Tietsort.

"Otherwise," the second piece, was a premiere and also my favorite of the evening. This duet for two women, Davis and Ringelstein, was the non-verbal equivalent of an intimate conversation that eventually ended as the dancers drifted apart physically to opposite areas of the stage. Dressed strikingly in black buttoned bodices and long skirts by Michael Kruzich, the dancers worked in unison, then in that mysterious Garrett way were suddenly mirroring each other or tossing movement phrases back and forth between them. The spare music by Arvo Part allowed for the dancers' eloquence to have its own voice and not just follow the music or be dependent on it. Davis and Ringelstein speak each other's language so fluently that their separation is even more deeply felt.

After an intermission, "Cow Chicken Pig," with wonderful costumes by Lisa Claybaugh, proved to be utterly out of place. Yes, it was funny in the same goofy way the Three Stooges are, but I certainly would have left it off this program. "Of Tongues and Tails," to music by Meredith Monk, did not live up to the previous performance I had seen. I seem to remember that there were fewer dancers and that the technical execution was tighter throughout. Ringelstein and Golden, Davis and Tietsort were great in their respective partnerships, and Lawton also danced at that same high level. For this piece to really work, though, everyone needs to be really crisp and interact strongly with each other. When "Cow Chicken Pig" came back for a second round, I could barely force myself to watch. The final dance, "Wayfaring," I had also seen before and preferred it in its previous form. This new expanded and revised version was too long and lost the conciseness it had before. Less is more.

For the moment I'll give Garrett the benefit of the doubt and optimistically hope that the next time I see her work it will fulfill the promise of her distinct talents. It could be that she's just going through a stage and given her obvious intelligence, she will eventually shape her work in more varied ways.

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