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Flash Review 1, 12-18: Way-out Art Tour
ODC Sketches Raphael at the Getty

By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2000 Kelly Hargraves

LOS ANGELES -- Set high atop a mountain, the gleaming new structure that is the Getty Museum is more than a building. It is an event. To get there you must park at the bottom of the hill and ride a slow-paced tram up to the peak, overlooking all of L.A. Once you're there, miles of white marble and glistening white lights on the trees greet you. It's quite a contrast from the heavy, quick-paced traffic of the 405 highway which takes you there. My trip yesterday to see ODC/San Francisco present a piece commissioned by the Getty to accompany the exhibit "Raphael and His Circle: Drawings from Windsor Castle" was my first time taking this journey to art mecca. Once you're inside, the Getty theater itself continues this sense of cleansing and repose. The antithesis of the N.Y.C. black box theater, this newly built stage gleams with white glass and aluminum wings, a pure white proscenium and an open stage that matches the openness of the house seating.

For ODC's journey to the top of the hill, artistic director Brenda Way presented three works: "John Somebody," a 1993 piece revived for the company's 30th Anniversary year; "24 Frames," a new piece; and the commissioned work "Garden Tour: Impressions of Raphael." As Way introduced the program, she alluded to her dances as fully-rendered sketches and welcomed the audience as an integral part of her creative process. It may have been her disclaimer for the level of finishedness of her new pieces, but there was an astuteness to Way's harkening back to Raphael's sense of the evolution of an artwork

One of the pivotal artists of the High Renaissance, Raphael created drawings which exemplify the principles of composition, types of figure drawing and systems of workshop collaboration that set the standards for much of the next four centuries of art making and influenced the next generations of artists.

His robust human figures have a sense of breath flowing through them. There seems to be endless potential for movement within each pencil line. Way, drawing from some of Raphael's more provocative drawings, composed a series of tableaus, with her eleven dancers, clothed in white gauze tunics, set against a backdrop of white moveable cedar-like metal trees.

Opening with a short slide collage of Raphael's work, "Garden" set itself up as a human animation of the artist's canvas. Way moved the dancers through a series of duets, solos, and group segments. There were some inevitable moments where the dancers strike a pose to replicate a drawing, yet somehow these inanimate drawings allowed Way to invest more sensuality, suppleness and passion into her movement here than in the other pieces on the program.

Whereas the first piece, "John Somebody," presented a duet for two women, who mirrored or echoed each other's movement, and three solos for men, who echoed the soundtrack, "Garden" discarded the mirror for a piece of charcoal and a sketch pad.

The second piece in the program, "24 Frames" was hectic, chaotic and busy -- like the 405 -- where "Garden" was slower, calmer, and softer, more befitting the sanctuary atmosphere of the Getty. "24 Frames" was a wild ride of short bursts of cut-throat paced movements where the dancers showed off their gymnast-like physiques and skills. Their precision gave the movement clear-cut formal edges but lacked a human element that flowed the movement through their bodies (with the exception of one extraordinary male dancer who seemed to sing the dances as a beautiful melody through his body).

"Garden" retained the company's athleticism and love of explosive partnering and tumbles, but the slower pace and planted images gave it a clearer text. Now there were darker undertones to the dance. Very distinct imagery and characters arise, like Adam & Eve tempted by the snake, The Three Graces, and a rape scene. Way seems to have found a violence in Raphael's representation of women. There is fear and hunger in their faces, and their pushes and pulls have a purpose. As the dancers are flung across the stage and bounced off each other's bodies, you can hear their bones and skulls hit the hard surface of the stage floor. Their exhausted bodies heave for air as they lay on the ground. I begin to be concerned for both their characters and their real selves. Fortunately, Way places elements of repair, care and support in the piece. A tranquility is restored to the garden.

The tour was ended, the trees firmly planted and the dancers spent. It was time to board the tram for the serene ride down the hill, back toward the gleaming city lights, the parking lots, the highways and the never-ending flow of traffic that is L.A. This tour, another very distinct dance experience, was unlike the others I have seen here. Unlike L.A.'s weather, which is as consistent as its ocean, the L.A. dance scene is a myriad of elements -- each performance a distinct piece of the choreographic puzzle.


(Editor's note: To take a tour of the Getty's Raphael exhibit, click here. Then click on the arrow at the top right of the page to proceed on the tour.)

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