Wednesday, January 11, 2006

West Wave Dance Festival, Program 9, 7/2005

Wild (yet) Mild West
West Wave Dance Festival
Program 9 at ODC Theater
July 30, 2005

A few weeks ago, I saw Program 2 of the West Wave Dance Festival, and while sparsely attended, the majority of the choreography infused originality with maturity. Last night at the opening of the two-day run of Program 9, the audience filled all of the seats and more. Perhaps this was a preview of things to come, as the works presented were not nearly as fulfilling as those of Program 2.

Two pieces stood out above the rest. With energetic and poignant music performed live by Sekou Alaje and Garno Da Paz (composed by Alaje and Ajai Jackson) and powerful vocals by Rhonda Benin, Kendra Kimbrough Barnes’ excerpt of Enduring Legacy, based on the death of her mother, combined traditional African dance with modern movement into an abstract retelling of a memory of her mother. Barnes’ choreography never stopped flowing, and her dancers’ (Shelley Davis, Clairemonica Dixon, Kelly Kennard, Latanya Tigner, and Barnes) ability to move from one genre of dance to another was quite impressive.

EmSpace’s Erin Mei-Ling Stuart presented an excerpt of How to See Red, a work that focuses on consciousness and the attempt to contemplate and understand what goes on inside of our heads. With costumes by Leigh Anne Martin that resembled an Anthropologie catalog, Stuart’s dancers, from a raised arm to sitting Indian-style, exuded a physical and emotional professionalism not seen anywhere else during the evening. Inventiveness, structure, and developed phrases tend to be Stuart’s strengths, and How to See Red proved to be a great example of this. While the overall work is still unfinished, I can’t wait to see the final product, which premieres later this October at Dance Mission.

Heidi Schweiker, a dancer in both Margaret Jenkins’ and Janice Garrett’s dance companies, presented the premiere of Come Rain, a solo for herself accompanied by an original score by local music extraordinaire Daniel Berkman. Her directional choices peaked my interest; she progressed from sharp and jagged to soft, sensual, and reflective, and her movements were focused, deliberate, and thoughtful. But Come Rain appeared more as a movement study than as a choreographic work. The debate between these two is for another day, however. Nancy Karp’s Trio Set, performed by Christy Funsch, Diane McKallip, and Anne-Lise Reusswig, felt like a placeholder. Based to some degree on the play Three Tall Women and with minimalist movement reminiscent of the early 80s, Trio Set focuses on graceful dancing that builds up and then POW, changes direction or focus. While some aspects are successful, I felt that the dancers never quite related to each other; instead, there were three separate entities dancing onstage instead of a trio. The first work of the evening was by Moving Art’s Michael Lowe with the premiere of Ghost, Life Unfinished, a fictional work that is abstractly based on the life and death of Teresa Teng, a popular Chinese folk singer. Lowe attempted to fuse traditional ballet with Chinese folk dance, but the outcome appeared superficial and unclear. Much of Lowe’s focus was on actual classical ballet positions and flexed wrists and not on the movements in between, and I felt uncomfortable watching the work, as though I were looking at pictures of Caucasian women dressed up as an American’s traditional image of a Chinese woman (black bob wig, white face, white cheongsam) with the addition of pointe shoes. Lowe has received a lot of praise for his choreographic skills, so I hope this work is simply a fluke of nature.

Overall, Program 9 presented some worthy choreography, but I feel that the expansion of the festival has caused some of the quality to be watered down. In both programs that I viewed, there was one piece of choreography that was clearly not up to the level of the others. Perhaps the festival needs to revamp how works are selected, who presents on the emerging choreographers’ program, and who presents at all. Even with the below-average selections, I believe that the festival as a whole offers Bay Area choreographers a supportive and intimate forum to present their work. Let's hope the festival is a little more focused next year.

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