Choreographer’s Showcase, July 31

By Scott MacClellandSpector

A NEW BATCH of choreography, some of it wonderfully clear of message, went on display over the weekend at SpectorDance in Marina. The Sunday matinee, which I attended, included two works not seen the previous evening. The first was Yun, a solo creation danced without music by Yao Dang, originally from Beijing but now a Californian. Here, she was in constant fluid motion, slowing her pace rarely to allow the audience to absorb her personal intensity. By way of form, she singled out a few gestures for repetition. The second, Tale of a Hummingbird, described as a preview, was of equally high energy. It too was danced by its choreographer, Angela Dice Nguyen, plus Stephen DiBiase and Dalmacio Payomo. Calisthenics, including fast running and other physical working out took the breath away. At times the dancing was solo, then duos and ensemble. At one moment, Nguyen stood motionless but fluttering her hands like a hovering hummingbird. Otherwise, the “Tale” was not clearly communicated.

The program opened with Beneath the Stories We Wear by Claire Calalo of For Change Dance Collective. Hat props gave the small ensemble—a smaller number than announced in the program handout—their organizing touchstones. Calalo danced among them but there was no bio about her. Music by Joseph Colombo included a song sung in Spanish. Calalo deployed her material between mostly duos and the full ensemble. You had to take it as individually personal work to pin down the narrative thread.

In January, Terronique Brown brought her company to Marina for No Man, a serious work inspired by the famous John Donne poem. For this program she presented four women from her LIV Dance Collective in an angry piece called Speechless (spelled with symbols as in a dictionary pronunciation guide.) The quartet in black costume, appeared in geometric formation in a pool of white light, heads turned down and one arm pointing straight up. Soon it became obvious their mouths had been taped shut. The ‘music’ was unintelligible recorded whispering but not before the women stripped off the tape and began muttering phrases to one another, like ‘carry it with me’ and ‘again and again.’ These were accusations and confrontations with dance underscoring the theme. If anything, dance seemed to take a secondary role here. At last the four faced the audience up close and shouted “Who speaks for you?”

With a background in classical ballet, Robert Burns Lowman partnered with Alexis Leigh Krup in Patient, a tender loving scene of the two wearing hospital gowns. Sleeves and then the gowns themselves came off revealing costumes depicting the layer of muscle beneath the skin, as if the pair had suffered worse than third-degree burns all over. The juxtaposition of the gruesome and of mutual caring, performed with such elegance, left an indelible impression.

Comedy, much of it laugh-out-loud, followed tragedy in Omnination by Elton Domingue and Anthony Ellis, one dressed all in black, the other all in white, with matching hats. Hip-hop and R&B provided the music and flashes of ‘lightning’ gave this duo the ‘set’ for their mirror-imaging, ‘pounding’ and ‘reinflating’ each other, break dancing, pantomime and other shtick. Bravo!

These first four numbers all lasted about ten minutes. Four student members of SpectorDance, girls aged 10 to 13 (the youngest and oldest, sisters) danced Jade Clayton’s Divertimento to the first movement of Mozart’s Serenade K136. Five girls later danced Hide and Seek by Marika Brussel to waltzing music in ¾ time. The Goren sisters, Rachel and Becca—I wrongly thought they were twins—danced to Rachel’s No Need to Say Goodbye, and the song Call by Regina Spektor. They, and other SpectorDance girls appeared in a reprise presentation of Fran Spector’s own Degas’s Rainbow, the longest piece of the afternoon, inspired by the paintings and sculptures of dancers by the great French artist, a real celebration.

The second half of the program opened with a short film, Story of Two, designed and danced by Jee Eun Ahn and Traci Klein, to moaning music, Camino, by Murcof. Paper figured prominently here, wrapping and unwrapping the dancers who memorably seemed to be pushed and pulled by invisible forces. An excerpt from Deborah Slater’s Line of Beauty was danced by Anna Greenberg and Derek Harris. She brashly took the entire first part to Lori B’s ribald waltz song Welcome to My Planet. He then expressed great pain and anguish to a keyboard invention by JS Bach. In the third part, to music of Fred Frith, his suffering aroused sympathy in her and the two danced together.

In my view, the best work of the day was Nested Memories by Rachel Lopez, in collaboration with her dancers, who were heard in a recording recalling their earliest memories. As the lights came up all eleven dancers were seen woven into a nest. As one of the recorded voices stood out, its dancer stood up in the nest. As the nest got looser some were singled out for cameos and solos. Only two of the company on stage were men and they indeed got lengthy solos. This was this one of most coherent choreographic designs I have seen, its narrative always clear and strong, and the music a perfect complement: Playground by Andy Smith, Tragos Amargos by Ramon Ayala, and an old Russian lullaby sung by a solo female voice.

Photo: Fran Spector Atkins (sixth from right) introduces her guest choreographers

Smuin Ballet, June 11

Smuin_Oasis_6_Keith SutterPhoto by Keith Sutter

By Scott MacClelland

SOME OF THE AUDIENCE for Smuin Ballet’s Dance Series Two were not happy about the shrill whistling from others nearby after the danced episodes. But at least that whistling was enthusiastic, and deserved in spirit, during the company’s Saturday matinee at Sunset Center.

Three ambitious works filled the program, the first a reprise of Val Caniparoli’s 30-minute Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino (Everything but the kitchen sink) that Smuin toured to Carmel two seasons ago. The world premiere production of Helen Pickett’s Oasis, nearly as long and the only one with scenery, closed the show. They sandwiched Return to a Strange Land by Jiří Kylián, a memorial homage to the legendary John Cranko, who vaulted the Stuttgart Ballet into a pioneering world-class company and who was cut down at age 45 by an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill on a transatlantic air flight following a successful US tour.

The first piece is full of whimsy and set to four violin concertos and one sinfonia by Vivaldi—each so rarely performed that they all sounded new. The 13 members, attired in shades of green and dancing on white vinyl, opened and closed the set and appeared between the many divisions in twos and threes that constituted most of the work. Cleverly, Caniparoli echoed in the choreography every little throw-away gesture in the music. For one bit—actually an extended transitional modulation—he selected the six men of the company into now-coherent, now-incoherent ensemble that barked and wept as the music couldn’t seem to decide where it was going. There were moments of clownish mugging, hints of romance and a startling bit of Irish step dancing. Resolutions took form in symmetries and abstract patterns. Michael Oesch’s effective lighting stood in for scenery.

Oesch adapted the 2006 lighting design of Kees Tjebbers, itself a revision of the original, generally dark, by Kylián who had also designed the set and costumes for Return to a Strange Land. Kylián selected piano pieces by Leoš Janáček. The first and fourth dance movements called for three dancers each, while the second and third were duets. Darkness included the now- black floor while the spare costumes favored muted blues and tans. The music was circumspect and the dance uniquely stylish, expressive and personal. At its conclusion, the exquisite finale posed the two men and one woman—Robert Moore, Dustin James and Erica Felsch—in a magically balanced sculpture. In his note, Kylián said the work has a “transcendental meaning”—along with the other members of Cranko’s company he was returning to what, without their leader, would inevitably be a strange land.

The second intermission was longer than the first because, at last, a real set with spectacular, undulating string curtains (see Keith Sutter’s photo above) and costumes, both by Emma Kingsbury, and a full-out lighting design by Nicholas Rayment required extra setup time. The string curtains allowed the dancers to move through them as if they were passing through walls. Or rather waterfalls. Pickett was inspired by Jessica Yu’s documentary Last Call at the Oasis which made the urgent case for water. Yu commissioned a musical score by Jeff Beal and Pickett recycled it—like water itself—for her choreography. (Various images of water were projected onto the string curtains and lighting was designed in complement.)

All 14 members of the company participated in sometimes dizzying display of ensemble energy and design, and whimsy. It was all celebration. Duos and trios and quartets appeared amidst the general hustle-bustle. Lifts and carries countered the horizontality of the stage with vertical thrusts. In one moment, a couple danced in a small pool of white light while the rest of the dancers sat in shade to observe them. A strong yellow flood from the wings cast a dramatic shadow of the two obliquely onto the string curtain.

Annoying whistling aside, the cheers and standing ovation lasted long until artistic director Celia Fushille took the stage to point out and honor three Smuin dancers who are moving on. She also promised that Smuin Ballet will return to Carmel for its 23rd season in the fall.