SpectorDance Choreographers Showcase

By Scott MacClelland

THE ADVENTURESOME Choreographers Showcase presentations at SpectorDance in Marina always fascinate yet often perplex me. But I can’t stay away. The dance concerts, put on three times each year, challenge dancers, aficionados and choreographers—in short those who flock to see what’s new from choreographic artists in this country and abroad. 

Many of them also dance their own work. Kuan-Hsuan Lee, born in Taiwan, performed her Artificial Nana on the Sunday matinee. What a strange and disturbing piece, sui generis, like nothing I’ve ever seen. As advised beforehand, she is fascinated by “the vulnerability, awkwardness, discomfort and rawness in humans.” This piece was in three parts. In the first, she stood on a raised pedestal with a tall superstructure that pinned her in arm- and leg-clasps. Her costume included a baggy skirt. She barely moved, but mugged a fake smile, while Nina Hagen screeched out a soundscape called Naturträne. Then her assistant came from the wings to collect her skirt which dumped out of its bags what appeared to be a load of artificial flowers. She continued to hand over her costume until she was down to a flesh-colored leotard. The prop was removed, the floor swept, and a cube-shaped box appeared. Zelda’s Theme by Pérez Prado accompanied her improvisation dance. For the third part, she donned a short see-through skirt and established a relationship with the box, to the music of a Shostakovich waltz, even though she did not accept the invitation to engage with its ¾ time. All of this took 11 minutes.

Beginning two hours of recent and new dance works was SpectorDance founder Fran Spector’s For My Mother, a world premiere created this summer, with family photos and other images projected on the back wall. Spector explained that her mother was going through end-of-life passages. Music by Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck echoed the emotion of the occasion. The dance design was in A-B-A form, the A sections taken by Tessa Dastrup, with Cindy Chen—who “grew up” at SpectorDance—in a joyous duet of mostly symmetrical or mirror imagery. The choreography engaged every part of the dancers’ bodies in a fluid, graceful display. Since Spector is known for her “issues” oriented work (East West, Ocean Trilogy) it was a welcome opportunity to witness a glimpse into her personal life through dance.

The subject of ‘leaving’ continued to appear in this program. Gabriel Mata (pictured above) turned his Escape Artist into a one-man tour de force of improvisational movement and breathtaking impact. He shuffled into view like an old man, but soon enough he put on a display of exceptional athleticism, long arms and legs becoming as flexible and graceful as a jellyfish, often at high speed. About half way through his virtuoso performance, he doffed his long pants as if to further liberate his movement. He also created his own soundtrack which included a female voice complaining that she just didn’t understand this modern dance, to the amusement of the audience.

Arick Arzadon and two colleagues, in street clothes and hip-hop style, danced Over (better known) to a short musical track by The Jinxes, with Arzadon singing along, on the subject of lovers breaking up.

Lori Seymour danced her own A Long Goodbye, dedicated “to the friends and families and caregivers of dementia patients.” Props served for memory triggers as Seymour made vivid the contradiction of love and pain in dealing the decline of her mother. From serious to humorous, she enacted the “fear, frustration and exhaustion” she had described before the Showcase began. Seymour had partnered with Margaret Wingrove for the choreography. She opened and closed the piece playing on solo dulcimer while a voiceover reflected on the process at hand.

The third movement from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with choreography by Charles Torres was danced by four teenaged students from the SpectorDance school.

Meghan Horowitz choreographed Four Seasons for six dancers—members of KTCHN SYNC Collective—to music from Vivaldi’s eponymous concertos, in this case ‘recomposed’ by Max Richter. The final of the four, the freezing slow movement from “Winter,” was a solo.

Other works on the program were Akinyola Adabale’s Glimpse: THE for two dancers, Leah Moriarty’s solo Take the Sound of the Room Breathing and Words I Cannot Say by David Maurice and Cesar R Degollado, danced by five members of ConDanza Repertoire Company.       

Smuin Dance Series 02

By Scott MacClelland

SEVERAL SANTA CRUZ dance lovers were in attendance at Sunset Center on Sunday for Smuin Ballet’s season finale, Dance Series 2, consisting of three works. It began with Falling Up, choreographed for eight dancers by Amy Seiwert—who is leaving Smuin to lead Sacramento Ballet starting next season—that premiered in 2007, to a series of short piano pieces by Brahms.

If I Were a Sushi Roll, to songs from the album Confessions—words by Teitur Lassen and music by Nico Muhly—got its world premiere during this just-ended tour. Its choreographer is Val Caniparoli, whose Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino (Everything but the kitchen sink) was premiered by Smuin in 2014 and revived in 2016. (Both of these half-hour Caniparoli works are laugh-out-loud funny.)

The 2016 tour also premiered Helen Pickett’s Oasis, (top of page) which was revived to conclude the program of last weekend in Carmel. Of the three works, this was the most ecstatic and climactic, with a fabulous orchestral score by Jeff Beal and dazzling set design and costumes by Emma Kingsbury.

At 21 minutes, Falling Up (right) is a largely formal piece, using five Brahms intermezzos. Lighter shades of neutral colored dresses for the four women (in pointe shoes) were set against dark trousers and slightly lighter long-sleeve pullovers for the men. The up-tempo second Brahms piece imparted a note of joy to the dancers, but otherwise the work unfolds its choreography in coolly abstract terms. Mostly danced by pairs, one vivid scene configured one woman with three men, and the opposite. Seiwert’s original fingerprints are easily recognizable, like her spinning en pointe and graceful leaning poses. 

Sushi Roll used the full company of 15 dancers, the men in black suits with ties and white shirts, the women in black dresses, all in soft shoes. The gestures and poses were nearly always whimsical and often comical. But it required a great deal of discipline and coordination to keep everything clear. The song titles were inspired by YouTube expressions of “hope, longing, regret, failure and resolve.” Caniparoli took his title from “If I were a sushi roll traversing through a Japanese kitchen, I would be mostly fascinated by the people there.” The words to the songs were just as goofy as they were danced to. Muhly, a rising star of opera and other new music, used a goodly number of musicians in creating some cheeky new sounds, often using Philip Glass-style minimalism. The song titles included “Sick of Fish,” “Coffee Expert,” “Her First Confession,” “Dog and Frog” and “Printer in the Morning”. The opening “Describe You”, with the full ensemble, had the audience giggling all the way through then plain-out laughing at its conclusion. Various props were added to underscore the sense of silly texts. As with most of Smuin’s repertory, large ensembles break into duos, trios  and solos. Mengjun Chen had a large solo in front of the ensemble in “Nowheresville.” Erica Chipp-Adams took a solo for “Printer in the Morning.” Maxwell Simoes, now only in flesh-tone tights, danced the virtuosic final solo in “Small Spaces.”

Pickett’s Oasis is about water, or the lack of it. The hanging string curtains, forward on each side to the stage, farther back in the middle, gave an added sense of depth to the tableau. Computer-generated projections amplified the effect, as did the theatrical lighting by Nicholas Rayment and Michael Oesch. Solos were danced before several of the corps who sat on the stage as if an extension of the audience. The 25-minute piece builds in intensity from beginning to end. Beal’s opulent score could succeed as a stand-alone concert work. Smuin artistic director Celia Fushille told me “Oasis was originally created for 14 dancers. Helen Pickett tightened it for 10 dancers and had the sections more focused. An earlier solo she turned into the now expanded solo and some of the minor entrances for dancers on the sides were removed to draw the focus to the soloists.”

At the end of the performance, Fushille took the stage, promising another Smuin season beginning in the fall, and also to extend well-wishes to dancers Dustin James, Rex Wheeler, Erica Chipp-Adams and Oliver Adams who are leaving the company. “Rex will still return as a choreographer next year on our Dance Series 1,” she added.

All photos by Chris Hardy.