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Review Journal, 5-14: Crunching
Isadora Awards; Pelton Revises; Watanabe Just Says Noh; Moses Tells
it; I have to go lie down now
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Tsao
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SAN FRANCISCO -- What
a relief "National Dance Week" is finally over, though I will have
to contend with the after-effects for another week or so. This deceptively
named merchandising event is a really bad idea for several reasons.
Just as Black History Month tends to relegate black history to the
month of February instead of having it truly integrated into the
history curriculum throughout the entire year, "National Dance Week"
has the same ghettoizing effect on the dance scene, particularly
in cities with a less full dance calendar than New York City's.
Granted it does call attention to this art form where no previous
calendar notice was given, it also detracts from efforts to promote
dance on a daily or weekly basis by overemphasizing the importance
of dance for one week at the end of April. When I end up having
to see six performances in nine days, hindsight says that in the
future it might be more prudent for local companies to spread their
performances out over the more barren stretches of the year. As
it was, the already meager dance audience couldn't see everything
because 1) as the old Yiddish saying goes, with one tuchus you can't
dance at two weddings and 2) who can afford to buy so many tickets
in such a short space of time?
On April 26 the "Bay
Area Dance Awards" made its debut appearance at the Yerba Buena
Center for the Arts Forum. The 18th Annual Isadora Duncan Dance
Awards (or Izzies) combined forces with BACNDW (Bay Area Celebrates
National Dance Week), VoiceofDance.com and Yerba Buena Center for
the Arts to inaugurate a new format in which the dance community
could congregate and honor recipients of three sets of awards. The
evening started with an introduction by MCs Brenda Way, artistic
director of ODC San Francisco, and Juan Dominguez, of Grants for
the Arts. BACNDW presented two awards. Special Recognition for Contributions
to the Field of Dance went to Sara Linnie Slocum, who was resident
lighting designer for San Francisco Ballet from 1977 to 1984. After
ten years of free-lancing Slocum became the resident lighting designer
for Smuin Ballets/SF. She has won many awards, including a local
Emmy, two Izzies and a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award. The
Zellerbach Family Foundation and the Fleishhacker Foundation both
won awards of Special Recognition for Advocacy. Both foundations
have a history of staunch support for the arts, having provided
financial and organizational assistance to many Bay Area dance artists,
companies and events.
The most substantial
part of the program was the announcement of this year's Izzie recipients.
(This reviewer serves on the Izzies Committee.) (Please see the
end of this Flash Journal for a complete list of recipients.) Besides
the regular awards, there were two Special Awards and two for Lifetime
Achievement. In the latter category were Malonga Casquelourd, the founding father of African
dance in the Bay Area, who died in an automobile accident last June,
and the late Lou Harrison, who composed many works for dance.
The evening was definitely
a success in bringing together the many disparate groups from the
local dance community and introducing them to each other. There
was much acknowledgment from both presenters and recipients of the
importance of embracing the many forms of dance in the Bay Area
and recognizing how cross-fertilization only strengthens the entire
At Dance Mission Theater on May 2, I caught the Stephen Pelton Dance
Theatre in a new evening-length work (as stated on the program and
advertising), "September for Sale," choreographed by Pelton. It
is a little disingenuous to publicize this as a new work when half
of the sections have been performed before. There are four new sections
created to Peteris Vasks's String Quartet No. 4 and dovetailed between
the older parts. As a result, one might contend that the new format
makes this a new work, but I don't agree. Austin Forbord contributed
an imaginative video design which helps to tie the pieces together,
but I would have liked the video screen to occupy the entire back
wall, creating a total environment, instead of seeming like just
a screen in the middle of the space.
One of the strongest
elements was the dancers' performance. Nol Simonse was intensely
focused and seamless in "Not Here," to music by Radiohead. The trio
of Sally Clawson, Christy Funsch and Simonse, who were nominated
for an Izzie last season for their performance in this section,
"September for Sale," found even deeper expression and explored
their interactions even more this time around. This proves how important
it is for choreographers and artistic directors of smaller companies
to keep works in the repertory for more than one season to give
the dancers the opportunity to grow into roles. Pelton's own dancing
was compelling in "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man," a solo consisting of movement
taken from documentary footage of Adolf Hitler.
Underneath his choreography,
Pelton casts a shadow of longing, loneliness and loss. I had noticed
this in his 1997 "American Songbook," a work which also employed
popular songs, but I was surprised to see that same darkness again
here in a different context.
On May 6, June Watanabe in Company presented "Noh Project II: 'Can't'
is 'Night'" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum. Watanabe
conceived and directed this collaboration between Anshin Ucida,
Noh Master and government-designated "Intangible Cultural Asset
of Japan"; poet Leslie Scalapino; music director Pauline Oliveros;
musicians Philip Gelb (shakuhachi), Shoko Hikage (koto), Toyoji
Tomita (trombone); composer Fred Frith; lighting designer Jose Maria
Francos; set designer John Woodall; and costume designer Sandra
Uchida opened with a
traditional Noh oshimai (dance) to a recording of his own voice.
Later in the evening when he sang live, the result was so much more
powerful I wondered why the recording was used earlier. The remainder
of the evening was an interweaving of various elements: the poem
"Can't' is 'Night'," read by Scalapino while moving slowly around
the stage, more Noh dance performed by Uchida, dance choreographed
and improvised by Watanabe and music co-composed and played by Oliveros,
Gelb, Hikage and Tomita.
I wish I could say that
the whole production came off as an integrated piece. Visually the
stage, with the audience on two sides, was quietly impressive in
the simplicity of the Japanese influenced design. The music was
exquisitely delicate and meditative and the dancing precise and
fluid as executed by true masters. The poetry, unfortunately, I
found a bit heavy-handed, especially the descriptions of the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Scalapino's unanimated delivery set
it far apart from the magical quality created by the other performers.
Finally, on Saturday, May 8, I went to see Robert Moses' (sic) Kin
at Kanbar Hall in the recently opened new building of the Jewish
Community Center. Perhaps the awkwardly designed space threw me.
The shallowness of the stage forced the dancers far out onto the
thrust, thus losing the framing of the proscenium, and the almost
non-existent wings meant that someone sitting on the far edge of
the house, as I was, could see most of what was going on backstage.
I have been a follower
of Moses's choreography for a number of years now, most recently
reviewing his 2003 concert here. In the past he made work that was mostly about
movement -- very intense movement, in both the way it filled space
and it used the body. With last season's "Word of Mouth" and "Biography,"
Moses has begun moving increasingly toward a more political point
of view in his choreography. In a way, it's the reverse of the change
in direction undergone by Bill T. Jones, who has moved from being
very political to taking a very formal approach to exploring movement
and spatial relations in an abstract manner.
This season the company
is dancing "Biography" again and with much better results. In the
performance I saw, the dancers were clear and strong, finding a
way to reflect the content of the text without being blatant. I
didn't feel that I must either watch the dance or listen to the
words and think about their meaning. I could take it in randomly,
alternating between dance and words and still have it make sense.
"Cause," a new work
utilizing spoken word, was commissioned by Youth Speaks, a local
presenter which produces such forums as Living Word Festival and
Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam. The strength of this piece was the
three teen poets who delivered their burning words with heartbreaking
sincerity. That they have already experienced such difficult lives
and can express themselves so eloquently was profoundly moving.
At times individual sections of the choreography were interesting
and the dancing matched the intensity of the text, but the overall
rhythm was too disjointed and the words could seem a little didactic.
Another premiere, "'Other
Gods,'" to music by George Pelecis, was far too long. Again many
parts of the choreography were well crafted and intricately woven
together. The dancers were also marvelously present, especially
Todd Eckert, Amy Foley and Katherine Wells, but some severe pruning
would help to focus this rangy piece.
Moses collaborated with
Bruce "Mui" Ghent on the choreography for "Tasogare," ("twilight"
in Japanese) which was performed to the live music of the Somei
Yoshino Taiko Ensemble with Ellen Reiko Bepp on hammer dulcimer,
Jimi Nakagawa playing taiko drums and Kallan Yoichi Nishimoto on
clarinet. Only an excerpt of the whole piece was presented (the
complete work premieres May 20-22) and that may explain why it didn't
seem to really hang together. The music was exceptionally good,
however, and I look forward to seeing the piece in its entirety.
Following are the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Recipients for the
Robert Moses for "The
Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things," for for Robert Moses' (sic)
Kin, at the Cowell Theater
Kara Davis for her entire
season, performing with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Janice Garrett
+ Dancers, and Kunst-Stoff.
Nadia Adame and Jacques
Poulin-Denis in "Sans Instruments" (Sonya Delwaide) with Axis Dance
Lorena Feijoo and Joan
Boada in "Don Quixote" (Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov after
Petipa) with San Francisco Ballet.
Diamano Coura West African
Dance Company in Wolosodown and Wango (Zakarya Diouf and Naomi Washington).
Carla Maxwell for the
restaging of Jose Limon's "Psalm" for the Limon Dance Company.
Reverend Markus Hawkins
for music composition and performance, in ElsewhereHere (Ledoh).
Allen Willner and Mary
Lois Hare for visual design, for "Heaven's Radio" with inkBoat.
Margaret Jenkins Dance
Company, Three Decades of Dance, 30th anniversary retrospective.
Chitresh Das, Ni Ketut
Arini, Govindan Kutty for choreography and performance and Matthew
Antaky for visual design, East as Center.
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