A Choreographer’s Showcase
By Scott MacClelland
As coordinated by artistic director Fran Spector Atkins, six California choreographers converged on SpectorDance Saturday night to showcase their work before a well-primed audience that included lots of young student dancers. The evening was framed, beginning and ending, with the work of Danish-born Mads Eriksen, now on the faculty of Ballet San Jose School. A student performance of Influx opened the show with seven young women dancing to piano music of Beethoven. A brief opening solo and generous ensembles the seven created patterns clearly born of neoclassical ballet.
These dancers also appeared in last December’s all-student performance in the spacious SpectorDance studios in Marina and, as here, revealed the different levels of achievement these teenagers have attained. With Olympic figure skating in Sochi freshly in mind, it was hard not to think about such perils as over- and under-rotating and how well these dancers could ‘stick’ their finishes. In this case, they all displayed similarly advanced skills and—they might be surprised to know—individual personalities.
The two-hour program concluded with another piece by Eriksen, Casting Shadows, danced by a precision troop of four women in toe shoes and two men. This was described in the handout as ‘an homage’ to neoclassical ballet, exactly as one would expect to see in the works of George Balanchine at the American Ballet Theatre, a tradition well remembered from the many Ballet San Jose seasons under that company’s founder Dennis Nahat. Abstract lines and figurations echoed the music of Dvořák’s String Serenade.
Neoclassical dance also infused Apparition, an excerpt from Marika Brussel’s The Tempest. Michelle Ellis, as the solo character Miranda, was guided by four dancing spirits, adding a narrative character to the classic moves. Now based in the SF Bay Area, Brussel’s background includes dancing with the Joffrey Ballet Concert Group. Her choreography has been danced in San Jose, Berkeley and other Bay Area venues. The music came from an Ethel CD of works by Chickasaw student composers from Oklahoma.
Earlier in the program, Jamielyn Duggan used a Philip Glass string quartet and a lazy Susan to perform a ‘wow’ solo, Revolve, by Milissa Payne (Bradley). The piece darted in many unexpected directions as its printed description suggested. California-born Payne, teacher, dancer and self-producer in the SF Bay Area, is the recipient of many awards and accolades. She is an ABT Certified Teacher and is currently a resident artist at San Francisco’s Performing Arts High School.
The laugh-out-loud piece of the evening was Karl Schaffer’s Trio for Six, in which six arms appeared through holes in a dark screen creating playful geometrical shapes and gestures with each other, a “hand dance” from a show called Daughters of Hypatia. The three ‘dancers’—you couldn’t really tell how many until the end—were Jane Real, Saki and Lila Salhov. Schaffer, a UCSC mathemathics PhD, has won NEA awards for combining these two disciplines, and has taken his art around the country. He is partner in the Schaffer-Stern Dance Ensemble.
For exotic Asian sensuality and vividly colorful costumes, the nod goes to Manifestations, created by its dancers, Lucrecia Navarro, Kristie Lauren and Tara Metzger, to music by Kalya Scintilla. Here was modern and belly dance with seductive moves and atmospheric 3-D postures.
Stacey Printz, out of Corte Madera, teaches as much as she choreographs, and her work on both counts has been seen all over the U.S. and in Europe. She was represented here with excerpts from two works, Soul + Mates and Hover Space. Printz danced with three colleagues, two female and one male, showing off her highly personal style. It was difficult to get the full measure of these larger pieces that call for many more dancers, and use vertical spaces in which to “hover”, but crawling on the floor, and moving together then pulling apart fed an appetite for more.
Julie Mulvihill and Marisol Garcia danced their own Home: A Performance Collage, and used props, including a dozen cardboard boxes with slogans written on them. The longest piece on the program, it was described as Draft 1, and it needs work. It attempted to answer the rhetorical question ‘what is home?’ by making references to memories, an embrace of family, folklore and other nostalgic sentiments. As such, it followed a verbal narrative, but the actual dancing, which included a fair amount of physical contact, did not align well with the promised context. As a performance artist, with lots of experience, Julie prefers to work out her ideas in ‘conversations’ with others. Maybe she’ll return in the next SpectorDance showcase with another draft of this one.
Stacey Printz hovering photo by Jeff Zender