Ocean Trilogy


By Scott MacClelland

A LONG TIME IN THE MAKING, Fran Spector’s Ocean Trilogy, a collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, got its first complete outing at Spector’s studio in Marina on the weekend. It fills 40 minutes with videos (shot and curated by Spector media-partner William Roden) interspersed with original choreography, realized by a quartet of female dancers, and original rap lyrics and rhymes by Baba Brinkman. The program began with Cascading Failures, choreographed by guest artist Tracy Kofford and danced by a company of 16. Between it and Ocean Trilogy, Brinkman performed excerpts from his own “Rap Guide to Climate Chaos.” The program’s second half saw a reprise of East West, Spector’s powerful 50-minute work on gangs, gang-violence and the consequences that have so tragically impacted Monterey County.

Ocean Trilogy needs further editing. Of the three components mentioned above, none gives the piece the impact it wants and needs overall. Instead, it comes across as a string of pearls, vignettes that flatter one another but remain stubbornly in their own domains. Brinkman, who was/is also a major collaborator in East West, conveys ideas and perspectives on issues of major—in this case global—significance in a highly coherent, sparkling way, often running ahead while the last provocative thought is still being digested. The footage of MBARI scientists, notwithstanding a few short zingers, tends to bog down the pace with earnest appeals that beat upon the same drum over and over. The dance, executed by the quartet, wearing leotards of bright blue, dark blue, plum and emerald green with long yards of matching chiffon, represented the ocean in all its colors and turbulence—to my taste the best part of the show. There should have been more of it and, indeed, the real spine of the piece. All the rest would better be relegated to drop-in commentary.

By contrast, East West’s great success is its narrative arc, setting a context, then, by stages, playing out programmatically the contextual allure of gang culture, the choices it demands, its ‘rite of passage’ violence, its code of silence and loyalty, its devastation on families and friends, its brutal prison realities and, ultimately, its path of redemption. One could convincingly argue that such a passage is idealistic, “dramatic” in artificial terms. But who among us is so cynical that we cannot respond to hope in the face of hopelessness?

Credit here must equally go to the cast that created this masterpiece: dancer/athletes Jones Welsh Talmadge, Anne-Marie Talmadge, Donte Essien and Colton Sterling.

The music and sounds that accompanied these performances were from a variety of sources, none by itself either a motivating force or a standout presence per se, not unlike much of today’s movie music.

Cascading Failures, inspired by the 1964 Paul Harvey doomsday “If I Were the Devil” warning to America that has certainly come to full bloom in the Trump administration, made a vivid impression, even if its vocabulary of ‘rank and file’ and duos against ensemble was conventionally familiar. Yet I found it quite moving and look forward to seeing more of Kofford’s work