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Review 3, 3-24: Quilt-work
Garrett's Stitches get Tangled in Sameness
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Tsao
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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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