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This Week in danceviewtimes

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September 30-October 6

Leigh Witchel reviews Maria de Buenos Aires

The story needs the right performances to move from stereotype to universal truth, but Parsons’ pedestrian staging did not rise to the challenge. Parsons had an assistant choreographer, Pablo Pugliese, who is a tango expert, but he was only able to transmit a very elementary style to the Parsons dancers. There was a lot of slinking, and some shimmying as well, but tango was in short supply. The partnering was tango lite; the upper body in standard position but none of the lethal calligraphy in the footwork. The dancing María, Malvina Sardou, had the looks for the part but not the charisma in a stiff performance

George Jackson reviews The Art of the Solo at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The solo is the essence of modern dance. If that pronouncement sounds pompous, forget the wordage and consider the facts. The artform’s history can be told thru solos, which isn’t so for most other types of dance. For ballet, partnering is quintessential and charting its course requires at minimum the pas de deux. The story of social dancing also needs the pair, at least since the birth of the waltz; for earlier examples it takes a small assembly of bodies. The solo, though, lends itself to individuality and economy. Individuality is the great motivating reason for modern dance; economy is the tough condition to which modern dance has had to adapt. Now, following the success of last year’s program of solos from about a century’s worth of possibilities, there’s not only been a sequel but plans have been announced by Mino Nicolas, whose brain-and-guts child the project is, for a third edition on September 20, 2008. Version 2 of “Solo” reprised a few of last year’s favorites, yet much on this program of dances from the past was undeservedly unfamiliar. If there was a shift of emphasis, it was that male choreographers were better represented.

John Percival reviews Siobhan Davies' "Two Quartets."

For thirty-five years Siobhan Davies has been making choreography, since she was a young dancer with London Contemporary Dance Theatre — one of the best dancers their school produced, and the best choreographer too. She formed her first group in 1980, which joined the groups of Ian Spink and Richard Alston for a while to form the experimental company Second Stride. She was for a time associate choreographer with Rambert Dance Company, also working with English National Opera and the Royal Ballet. So she brought wide experience to her present company, and since 2002 has developed a new way of running it through extensive periods of research with the dancers for each show.
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October 7-13

Lisa Rinehart reviews Donna Uchizono Company at Dance Theatre Workshop (through October 13).

Ever fearless, Donna Uchizono explores the abstractions of Buddhism and quantum physics in "Thin Air," a heady conceptual piece with just enough dancing to keep it grounded (and, I might add, fascinating). Uchizono likes to immerse herself in something -- a place, an emotional experience, an idea -- then riff on it in unpredictable, and pleasantly inexplicable ways. In "Thin Air," Uchizono concentrates on perceptions of reality by way of juxtaposing the corporeal qualities of dance with the theoretical realities of video.

Susan Reiter reviews Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Wild Cursive" at BAM.

The program informs us that Kuang Chao, from which Lin drew his inspiration and developed the movement, "is considered the pinnacle in Chinese cursive aesthetics and frees characters from any set form and exposes the spiritual state of the writer in its expressive abstraction."

That's a heady description to live up to, but as the dancers move, with their distinctive blend of supple grace that is both sensual and meditative, through the solos, duets, small ensembles and massed clusters of this 70-minute work, one senses an ongoing spiritual exploration. They are dressed in simple, flowing black pants, with sleeveless leotards for the women, while the men are bare-chested. Their fervent concentration and exquisite control -- notably, an ability to quietly, subtly isolate areas of their bodies -- are put in service of Lin's exquisite craftsmanship.

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October 14-20

Tom Phillips reviews Butoh at the Japan Society.

Butoh on Parade

These two evenings were both produced by Japan's most established Butoh company, Dairakudakan, founded in 1972. The choregraphers were younger company members, in each case using recorded musical collages, with snippets of western pop, classical and Japanese contemporary music. The productions were flawless and the dancing top-drawer. However the striking similarities in style, sound, casting and form made one wonder if Butoh has wandered from its origins as spontaneous, raw bodily expression. Butoh dance emerged from the ashes of post-war Japan as the "dance of utter darkness," a protest so profound that it defied prediction or analysis. Could it be that in middle age, the darkness has lost its way and become just another Japanese consumer product?

An answer could come in a couple of weeks, at the October 25 premiere of a piece commissioned by the Japan Society, choreographed by Butoh pioneer Akira Kasai for five American dancers. It's called "Butoh America." Can Butoh jump the big pond? Could America be the new home of utter darkness? If you care, watch this space.

Lisa Traiger reviews Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company .

This specificity of approach reappears in "Images from the Embers." Inspired by French novelist, journalist and resistance fighter Marguerite Duras'™ World War II-era writings, the work is a throwback: its dramatic narrative of life and death laid out on the trajectory of a writer's career recalls ballet's most famous anti-war treatise, "The Green Table."In both, the character Death figures prominently. While in Kurt Joos's 1933 work, Death was a dominant, strapping male, Burgess's Death is portrayed by the formidable Shu-Chen Cuff, initially standing on a stool, later grasping and writhing. With a writer as central character the work becomes a danced drama of interior dialogues and monologues. But Burgess can't motivate the writer to only dance: he relies on a swath of paper unrolled onto the floor to become the path on which "Tati" Maria Del Carmen Valle-Riestra scribbles a lot and moves less. As the Middle Aged Woman, she carries a weight that belies her petite frame, while her doppelganger, tiny Nitadori again, Burgess's most accomplished dancer, is the one with a fire within. Seen as an excerpt, without most of the projections and other trappings, this work, paired with a duet after intermission, suffers from a lack of continuity. Sloppy partnering by Leonardo Giron Torres in the duet did not show off Nitadori at her best.
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November 25-December 1

Rita Feliciano reviews The CONCEPT Series at James Howell Studio in San Francisco.

Before the advent of the Internet and the name of the eponymous magazine, the word “salon” evoked upper class living rooms or powerful women like Madame de Sévigny or Madame de Pompadour who exerted their considerable influence from behind teacups. So when RAWdance’s Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith announced an evening of coffee and cake in addition to informal performances, the idea sounded intriguing. Judging from the crowd that packed the minuscule James Howell Studio in a residential San Francisco neighborhood, this novel way of presenting new dance, just might find a spot for itself. The evening was short, sweet and savvy.

Even though this studio—squashed between two Victorians, down a long alley--is primarily used for yoga classes today, it has a history of dance. Built in the seventies by Gerald Arpino and former Joffrey dancer James Howell, the space is long and narrow like a bowling lane, accommodating one row of seats and one of cushions on each side of its length. One would assume this to be eminently unsuitable for performances. Yet the organizers simply asked the audience to move its chairs and cushions according to each piece’s requirements.

Susan Reiter reviews Tero Saarinen's "Borrowed Light" at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Saarinen found ingenious ways to convey the strength that these people drew from one another and their shared beliefs, as well as both the beauty and the poignancy of such an isolated, restricted way of life. His and Cohen's research led them to the handful of Shakers who are all that remain of this devotional sect today. But in their artifacts, architecture, and music, they clearly have created their own vibrant legacy, and it is one that Saarinen draws form and transmutes with indivduality and utmost respect.
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December 2-December 9

Rita Feliciano reviews Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in "Other Suns" at Theater Artaud in San Francisco.

The forty-minute piece is an astounding work by this gifted, experienced choreographer. “Investigating symmetry and asymmetry lead me to think about the balances and imbalances in our world today—the melting and eroding of the planet and how the discord between people has broken both environmental and political symmetries,” Jenkins has said about her motivation for the project.

Whether the world ever was in “balance” and whether “symmetries” ever existed is, of course, a question to be debated. But working, as always, collaboratively with her seven dancers, she translated this conceptual framework into a fiercely visceral piece that felt like one had stepped onto a platform that revolved sometimes at dizzying speeds, sometimes more leisurely.

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George Jackson reviews Levydance for danceviewtimes.

Levy’s “Bone Lines” is about scary sex in the nightmare tradition of insect ballets like Doris Humphrey’s “Life of the Bee”, Jerome Robbins’ “The Cage” and John Taras’s “Piege de lumiere”. The curtains open on a stagescape of shadow and light. Discernible are four bizarrely encased yet attractive bodies straining at the harness/umbilicus that ties each to a central pod or hive (Rick Lee’s glistening mobile). The brood succeeds in breaking free, in being fully born, and all four fall to the floor exhausted. Reviving, they test their limbs and torsos. They also shed their casings (costume design by Colleen Quen), going thru developmental stages and sensual mating behavior until, as the piece ends, the life cycle begins to repeat itself – perhaps. The work’s strength is Levy’s light touch in devising movement that merely suggests the articulations of insects. Keeril Makan’s music, too, can be heard as alluding to other life forms. Levy’s vague ending, though, makes “Bone Lines” seem unfinished.
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January 6-January 12, 2008

Rita Feliciano reviews "Women on the Way Festival."

“Women on the Way” (WOW) is the Bay Area’s two-week mini-festival which ties us through the January doldrums until Dance kicks back into high gear later in the month, most prominently this year with the start of San Francisco Ballet’s 75th Anniversary season on January 29. In the past the programs’ mix of theater, circus, music and dance by younger women artists was one of WOW’s major attractions. It afforded cross-disciplinary viewing that often made for unusual and stimulating juxtapositions. Unfortunately, this year Footloose, the presenting organization, abandoned that format.

For its eighth incarnation WOW is presenting all the dance offerings in a separate performance space, the one-year old The Garage, close to the downtown area. On the first program were a duet for and by Leonore Deaton and Marisa Mariscotti, two pieces by Aura Fischbeck Dance and The Pfeifle Dance Project. If it hadn’t been for Fischbeck, this would have been dreary opening.

George Jackson reviews Moiseyev Dance Company.

Much about the company is almost the same – the variety of steps and patterns, the alternation of dynamics and the performers’ upbeat mood. Hints of melancholy (“Gypsies”) and languor (“Egyptian Dance”) are allowed as contrasts that give way to exultation. The execution is more bravura than ever and a considerable contingent among the 65 dancers on this tour is the tall, streamlined, balletic type that Russian companies like the Kirov and Bolshoi now promulgate. Anna Shchukina and Nikolay Rubtsov exemplified that right away as leads of the opening number, “Summer” – a Russian dance. There are still short dynamos, particularly among the men. Of necessity, the tall and the short must sometimes share the stage and the way Moiseyev’s assistants – Elena Shcherbakova, Victor Nikitushkin, Lev Golovanov and Larisa Aristova - deploy them in sharp but balanced contrast (3 short = 4 slim tall) ought to be a lesson to ballet masters of classical companies facing this situation.
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February 4-February 10, 2008

Lisa Rinehart reviews Trisha Brown Dance Company in "Foray Forêt," "If you couldn't see me," "I love my robots" at the Joyce Theater.

Given Trisha Brown’s 37-plus years as a preeminent postmodern choreographer, the Joyce program feels a little tepid for the queen of cool abstraction. The dances aren't boring, and the performances are admirable (the Gala treat of watching Brown improvise in the last piece was especially rewarding), but there is a malaise to the evening that’s hard to identify. Perhaps a jolt of caffeine is the answer. A heightened state of nervous tension might help detect the deep structure that indeed lurks in Brown’s tangled groups and introspective solos, but unaltered one feels the neurological gears grinding to stay alert.

Rita Feliciano reviews Company Ea Sola in "Drought and Rain Vol. 2" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Despite its obvious shortcomings, "Drought" had moments of clear articulation and poignancy, which suggested how much more could have been done with this material. Mostly, however, they were of the vignette type, falling like drops of clean water into a muddy pool. Dancers tiptoed in the dark like delicate birds. A fiercely aggressive duet dissolved into puppy dog tumble from which one partner simply walked away. Freezes came out of nowhere. The tension in the hands of two women who approached each other looked erotic until they touched. Singer Doan Thanh Binhim imperturbably walked among the dancers. Whether her expressive vocalizing was "wailing," I couldn't tell. A woman knocking on a man's shoulder to gain "admittance" even infused a moment of levity. A simulated suicide stabbed like knife.
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George Jackson reviews the Japan Festival's modern dance programs in this week's danceviewtimes.

Before the Cherries Blossom

Noism08 “Nina”; Sankai Juku “The Kumquat Seed”; Akira Kasai “Pollen Revolution”

Winter winds stir the stark branches. Washington’s cherry trees are wagging a thousand fingers as if to ask why Kennedy Center couldn’t have waited a few weeks until transplanted nature too would celebrate Japan. The only hint of an answer is that February was computer chosen as the most opportune month for the Japan festival. Such reliance on artificial intelligence seems apt. If there is a theme running thru the displays of lacquer sculptures, folding screens, costume fashions, flower transparencies, highway photographs, bamboo constructs, pearled jewelry and lifelike machinery, and furthermore if this supposed theme also imbues the festival’s lectures, workshops and performances – it seems to be that culture and nature interact unpredictably. The festival’s strong dance bias isn’t as surprising as its subtext: the art’s future lies in its details today. These included the blinking eyes of the robot Geisha on display in the Hall of States as it refused to answer a patron because the question asked wasn’t original enough, or the only waist-high upright arabesques allowed in the venerable and Western “Raymonda” as performed by Tokyo’s New National Theatre Ballet. Little things, alongside big ideas and lasting images, were notable too in the three modern/post-modern dance presentations I’m commenting on.

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