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Flash 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 Ts’ao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Ts’ao

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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 dance scene.


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 Woodall.

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 2002-2003 season:

Choreography

Robert Moses for "The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things," for for Robert Moses' (sic) Kin, at the Cowell Theater

Individual Performance

Kara Davis for her entire season, performing with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Janice Garrett + Dancers, and Kunst-Stoff.

Ensemble Performance

Nadia Adame and Jacques Poulin-Denis in "Sans Instruments" (Sonya Delwaide) with Axis Dance Company.

Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada in "Don Quixote" (Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov after Petipa) with San Francisco Ballet.

Company Performance

Diamano Coura West African Dance Company in Wolosodown and Wango (Zakarya Diouf and Naomi Washington).

Revival/Restaging/Reconstruction

Carla Maxwell for the restaging of Jose Limon's "Psalm" for the Limon Dance Company.

Music/Sound/Text

Reverend Markus Hawkins for music composition and performance, in ElsewhereHere (Ledoh).

Visual Design

Allen Willner and Mary Lois Hare for visual design, for "Heaven's Radio" with inkBoat.

Special Awards

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.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Malonga Casquelourd
Lou Harrison

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