featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review Journal, 5-18: From Indelible Lightness to Gravity
Smuin Loses the Thread; Curtis & Company Weave

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Ts’ao

New! Sponsor a Flash!

SAN FRANCISCO -- The words on Nikos Kazantzakis's grave read: "I expect nothing, I fear nothing, I am free." I should have remembered them before going to see Smuin Ballets/SF at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater on Tuesday, May 11. Last season, choreographer Michael Smuin created "Zorro", a truly delightful entertainment with very high production values. Even though I generally don't go in for that type of dance, I did enjoy it immensely. So I figured that Smuin's tenth anniversary retrospective would at least be well put together, and there would be something I would enjoy.

Disappointment is the word to describe my reaction to the evening's attempt to show an entire decade of this company from its inception through its development until now. Despite some excellent performances by several of the dancers and the premiere of a new work by company member Amy Seiwert, the lack of a connecting thread weaving its way through the program or some kind of thematic glue for the various sections left me feeling like I was watching the visual version of an oldies radio station. That can be fun sometimes, bouncing from one thing to the next, but since the show was supposed to be about a very specific topic, ten years of this particular troupe, both the audience and the company deserved a more fitting tribute, something at least as well crafted as "Zorro."

I was a bit disoriented when the order of the dances didn't match the printed program and would have appreciated an insert with the actual order and casting. The interpolation of video clips from past performances of pieces that weren't being performed live was not as smooth as it could have been and some clips with low resolution, resulting in pixilation, were distracting. I would have preferred fewer clips, of higher quality.

On the positive side, I was happy to see Erin Yarborough and Gianna Davy migrate over the bay from the Oakland Ballet, bringing their warm personalities to the roster. And how satisfying to note that Pedro Gamino has grown so much stronger technically and artistically over the past few seasons that I barely recognized him. I was particularly taken with Vanessa Thiessen's passion in "No Vivire," from "Dances with Songs." David Strobbe and John DeSerio displayed an easy intimacy in "Una Lagrimita," a duet for two men from "Tango Palace." The highlight for me was "Chalita/Puppet Tango" from "Frankie and Johnny." Cleverly choreographed by Smuin and perfectly costumed by Sandra Woodall, this illusion of a couple dancing a tango was flawlessly executed, single-handed and single-footedly, by Shannon Hurlburt. He was dressed with one leg in half a pair of trousers and the other leg, wearing a high-heeled shoe, emerged from a dress. He held his partner's torso but let her lean back and toss her head.

I also applaud Smuin's vote of confidence in Seiwert. Letting this emerging choreographer set a piece on his company is both generous and encouraging. "Short Ride," to music by John Adams, with costumes designed by Mario Alonzo and lighting by Brian Jones, was well danced by five couples and showed Seiwert's craftsmanship and her inventiveness to great advantage.

Then there is the opposite end of the dance spectrum. Gravity Physical Theater/Jess Curtis presented an evening of new works and works in progress by several choreographers at 848 Community Space, which I saw this past Saturday. Curtis's "Fallen" from 2002 won the First Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an Izzie (Isadora Duncan Dance Award) for company performance and an Izzie nomination for choreography. Since it is also one of my favorite pieces, I made a big effort to keep my expectations in check, though the publicity and press release enticed me with such blurbs as, "Curtis references and cites numerous works of contemporary dance performance and critical theory examining the ownership, control and contextualization of our bodies and the creation of meaning involved in their representation" and "(no one turned away for lack of understanding French post-modernism.)" On the mere strength of reading those phrases, I knew that I needed to be mentally alert and ready to laugh before I hit the theater.

The first half of the evening consisted of five pieces. "#1" and "#2" (excerpts of work in progress) by Benjamin Levy were merely all right, looking rather generic in the contact improvisation-influenced modern dance way. "Excerpted," choreographed and danced by Rachel Lincoln and Mark Stuver began as a gestural dialogue between a man and woman. By turns witty and poignant, the piece evolved into more of a real dance employing some intelligent contact improvisation-influenced phrases. The best of the five were "The way to disappear (coats)" and "The way to disappear (shoes)." The first of these, co-created and performed by Leslie Seiters and Rachel Lincoln, had the two women wearing jackets that were suspended by ropes from the ceiling, attached at the shoulders. They hung and spun and partnered each other. It was quite remarkable to see how inventive choreographers can be with the simplest of props. The second, directed by Seiters and performed by collaborators Seiters and Stuver, had an almost Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater feel to it. A man and a woman each held one of a pair of shoes, and manipulated them so that they appeared to be moving of their own volition. Later the shoes were stationary while the dancers took turns stepping into them and then lifting each other out of them and slowly being set down.

"Rachel Lincoln," a title complete with a footnote and a copyright symbol and a premiere from Curtis which he performed with Lincoln, is a piece I would like to see again. Because it was so complex and thought-provoking, I wanted more time to absorb and reflect on it. Curtis handed out a sheet of footnotes immediately before the piece started and the references on it correlated to either readings or physical images/movement phrases. These were then labeled with footnote numbers on cards that the dancers flipped over, held up or stuck to the wall, as the piece proceeded. In trying to explore the philosophical aspects of meaning, Curtis ended up at the same time making fun of the seriousness and absurdity of that exploration. Early on, when he spoke a few lines in French and I was one of just a few laughing, I realized that the discourse was beyond most of the audience's experience. Amazingly, it turned out that everyone enjoyed it in spite of not knowing what was referring to what. So I now ask the question, "If the audience is already interested without knowing most of the references, are the footnotes even necessary?" When I spoke to Curtis over lunch on Monday, he compared the internal process of viewing this piece to the serious reading and explication of a poem, where it is necessary to look up words in the dictionary and follow up literary references, to read and reread it until you truly understand it and can see beneath the surface to the deeper facets. All forms of art can be more rewarding when you are willing to invest more time and effort in understanding them.

The next morning, while reading P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves and the Impending Doom" over breakfast, I came across the following dialogue between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, which points up yet again that there is nothing new under the sun and that some very apropos things come out of the oddest places:

"Jeeves, have you ever pondered on Life?"

"From time to time, sir, in my leisure moments."

"Grim, isn't it, what?"

"Grim, sir?"

"I mean to say, the difference between things as they look and things as they are."

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home