By Scott MacClelland
NOW IN THEIR 18th year of semi-annual Choreographer’s Showcase presentations, SpectorDance in Marina hosted 11 visiting choreographers from all over California and, in one case, Texas. Several of them danced their own material. The program, which I attended Sunday, opened as Fran Spector Atkins asked each of her guests to introduce themselves and say a few words about what the audience could expect. This was a valuable introduction that abetted the bios printed in the program handout, sort of a ‘name with a face’ exercise that made the experience that much more personal.
Colton Pierson Geiger, from LA, explained that his All the Blue Changes reflected recent hard turns in his life. An ensemble of seven girls, teens and preteens in the SpectorDance teaching program, alternated between moments of anguish and ensemble patterns, from broken groups to the full corps, from vertically uplifting spirits to writhing on the floor. The 10-minute piece opened and closed in silence, but its large middle section played to the haunting voice of Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth. The girls put this performance together with Pierson Geiger’s guidance in one week and acquitted themselves splendidly. However, I felt the number of dancers diminished the intimacy implicit in his words.
Alexa Roman and Brad Milison, in black and white stripes, danced their own Measure in Hours. The “music” was a reading of Morris Schreiber’s The Anatomy of Language—with key words spelled out—while the program note asserted the piece was about our relationship with time. The dancing was rational more than inspired and didn’t seem to fit with the text, always a potential problem when fitting abstract dance to literal ideas, especially ones as challenging as Schreiber’s.
Traci Klein danced her own solo You Are Here, also in black and white colors. This was existential and improvisatory, to mysterious slow music called Mes, by Murcof. As in most cases here, it seemed the dance had been created first and music selected later, but I could be wrong.
Chloe Isabelle Bowman’s The Empty Frame Portion was danced by Juliana Gorman and Emily R. Todd, an intimate piece “exploring vivid memory” including grief, dependence and loss. It began and ended with the dancers sitting on the floor side by side. Lots of physical contact made the work both personal and sensual. The different shades of memory came into focus with intensity.
Speaking of intensity, Lindsey Renee Derry’s Atomica was a tour de force, a 10-minute solo of callisthenic power. The San Francisco-based dancer began perched high in a small armchair. Writhing in place, and seeming to flex every muscle of her body, she leaned over one arm of the chair to the point where her center of gravity tipped it on its side. She looked startled for less than a second and made a graceful recovery without losing focus, then stripped off the blouse that partially covered her leotard. (I couldn’t tell if that was part of her choreography, but I was ready to give the benefit of the doubt.) Her movements, extremely detailed from the tiniest to the grandest gestures, were sharply focused and hard driving. When the music changed from Biosphere’s Tornerai to David Bowie’s Space Oddity, the pace relaxed a bit but not the intensity. The title of the piece was meant to establish the most extreme contrast between atomic particles and neutron stars. I spoke with Derry (photo by Lucas Krech) later, and she admitted turning over the chair was a surprise. By immediately removing her blouse, which was planned for later, she intended to distract anyone in the audience from getting stuck on the chair incident. She told me that she started designing this piece at the beginning of last year and “it’s now on the verge of discovering what it’s about.” This was a remarkable performance by a deeply concentrated artist.
Mark Foehringer, of the Mark Foehringer Dance Project in San Francisco, has become a SpectorDance regular. Members of his company, Jamielyn Duggan and Thomas Woodman, danced his “Song to the Moon,” in a cello/piano arrangement by Stjepan Hauser of the famous aria in Dvořák’s opera Rusalka. This was old-fashioned romance, a gorgeous love duet that warmed up us seniors and might have embarrassed the youngsters of 2015 in the audience.
From CSU Long Beach, Jobel Medina’s Simul iustus et peccator (Simultaneously righteous and a sinner) takes its title from Martin Luther’s critique that the Council of Trent held as the greatest threat to the Roman Church’s teachings. It was danced by Medina and two fellow students, Nathan Gonzaga and Robert Wells, in a physical, manly expression of conflict, doubt and even, I would say, fear. The music was a powerful scrim, largely synthesized, called Glide, created by Christian Fennesz (and added after the choreography was complete.) Later, Medina told me the work represented his struggle as a gay man who grew up in a conservative Christian church. He said the three men were actually one man working out the conflicting emotions he has experienced. For every painful gesture there was always an uplifting one.
Garth Grimball danced his own duet, Shouldering, with Jeanette Male. Gentle green light illuminated their costumes. The piece consists mostly of graceful poses and symmetries, the one dancer mirroring the other to Heather Stockton’s music.
The extremely brief Smother, choreographed by Hannah Millar, danced by five women, took as its subject a woman’s desire to feel loved in the face of betrayal and abandonment. The dancers were grouped in solos, twos and threes, their conflicts resolving into symmetries.
Emily R. Todd’s Tedium, danced by Chloe Bowman (of the earlier Empty Frame) and Juliana Gorman visited the repetition of daily routine, the one continually interrupting the other. It could have been whimsical but wasn’t.
Lastly, Foehringer’s Conservatory for Contemporary Dance presented A Choreographic Offering—to the trio sonata from JS Bach’s A Musical Offering—with ten dancers in various groupings, running in and out from the wings. Again, the busy scurrying resolved into symmetrical patterns. There was a touch of Balanchine in fitting the designs to the music. The piece was shorter than the Saturday night performance due to an injury suffered by one male dancer.
As with other SpectorDance Showcases, those works that didn’t fare as well were well supported by those that did.