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Flash Review 3, 3-24: Quilt-work
Garrett's Stitches get Tangled in Sameness

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Ts’ao

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SAN FRANCISCO -- A few days before I went to see Janice Garrett and Dancers at the Cowell Theater this past Thursday, I had gone to see a quilt exhibition at the Oakland Convention Center across the bay. Most of the quilts had been made by local seamstresses, though there were also a handful of antique ones from someone's collection and another dozen by a famous contemporary quilter. While the craftsmanship was beyond reproach, every piece of fabric precisely cut and meticulously sewn, the color schemes thoughtful, and the patterns honoring a long tradition of geometric invention, there were only about ten out of 250 that truly caught my eye. Nearly all of these stood out because they "broke the rules"; the patches weren't perfectly straight or the colors were combined in very idiosyncratic ways. These quilts were pieces of art that had the power to move me emotionally. The rest were like dutiful children, well-behaved but without any spontaneous joy in life. More about this in a minute.

Garrett's concert marks the second season she has produced an entire evening of work. (Please click here to read my review of the first.) She is blessed with some of the best dancers in town and has a loyal and appreciative audience. Opening the show is the premiere of "Rumpus," a quicksilver and quirky, gag-filled and galloping quintet. The whimsical costumes by James Meyer and WestonWear, with their loopy wired tutus, hair decorations and arm accessories completely capture the essence of the choreography, set to the equally interesting fusion music of accordionist Rene Lacaille and guitarist Bob Brozman. Despite the dancers' buoyancy the piece suffers from the jokes carrying on for too long. There is also a section for three women which really only works when the performers are in perfect synchronization, and for whatever reason they don't quite manage to pull that off.

In direct opposition to the tone set in the first piece, the next new creation, "Talking with the Dead" mines the serious vein of exploring mortality. Using her full company of seven dancers, Garrett fills the stage with intricate, overlapping patterns, one group already on stage moving in counterpoint to another just entering from the wings. There is a very touching pas de deux danced by Heather Tietsort-Lasky and Nol Simonse. Both have found their own voices within Garrett's structures and movements and impart an other-worldliness to their roles. In a solo a little later, Tietsort-Lasky is particularly moving.

After the intermission, "Path in the Rug" makes its debut. This choreographic conversation for two dancers, Heidi Schweiker and Simonse, to Peteris Vasks's "Balsis," a symphony for strings, is the quilt that commands my attention. I put it in the same category as Garrett's previous work for two women, "Otherwise" from a couple of years ago. Both dances are transcendent and transformative. Without resorting to blatant emoting, Garrett creates the dialogue out of the steps themselves; a supported off-balance leaning, a jump to curl up on a shoulder. Then as the dance moves from showing a mutual dependence to exposing each individual's asserting his independence and own thinking, the movement evolves into separate monologues. In the end, as steps begin to repeat, we see the two resolve into the mutual intertwining again, but with a deeper understanding. Both Schweiker and Simonse are powerfully subtle in revealing their need for each other and their desire to be separate.

"Laulu Palju," which premiered last summer, closes the evening. I found it too long and not varied enough in texture the first time I saw the piece and do not change my mind this time around. There is certainly a lot of ingenious choreography and the dancers perform with conviction, but it could use some internal contrast. As usual, there is a high level in production values, particularly Chris Maravich's lighting design, which throughout the entire evening is wondrously understated. It perfectly lights and highlights the shapes of bodies and the patterns formed by the dancers without being gimmicky as so much lighting is today.

Garrett is decidedly a talented and intelligent choreographer. Her work is always well-crafted and she has proven that she is capable of occasional striking inspiration. Looking at the broader picture, I would like to see her plan the arc of an evening's program with an eye toward variation of choreographic texture and emotional tone. This show started out on a high note and then slowly descended into more and more serious themes. In the narrower scope, I could see Garrett doing the same within each piece. Many of her creations are a little too much of the same thing over and over. At least it's an interesting thing that gets repeated, but I would love to see her push and pull the material to new limits.

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