Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
April 6, 2001
ODC/San Francisco is presenting its 30th anniversary season, Dancing Downtown, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts April 4 - 22, 2001. The night I went, the small but extremely vocal audience was first treated to Scrapbook (subject to change), directed/choreographed by Kimi Okada. This work was originally titled (subject to change), but this proved too confusing for playbill readers, and the word "Scrapbook" was added for clarity. Some of the confusion was retained in the work, however, as it tried to span the 30 year artistic history of ODC in a movement and visual retrospective.
The work featured the full company, ODC alumni, and the ODC Dance Jam (children's ensemble) in a unique and highly successful fusion. The curtain rose to reveal children in leggings and white singlets, adults in black. Center stage was the cutest little blond boy I've ever seen (this adorable little urchin could charm barnacles off the bottom of a boat!), who looked deceptively frail until he began to dance. All the young dancers were outstanding, holding their own amidst the company dancers in creative and amusing juxtaposed groupings, giving the audience a sense of tradition, of dance spanning generations. A neat frame for the performance.
Scrapbook began with three adults and three children, clapping rhythmically against their bodies and oozing forward in unison, talking and cheek popping, and then reversing both the physical and verbal, talking and walking backwards. This got a big laugh from the very appreciative audience, and the work exploded from there, showcasing the full range of wit, athleticism, physical comedy, and fierce dramatic interpretation in ODC's repertoire. Voiceovers discussed ODC's guiding principles, including featuring individual personalities, and exposing the process in a public setting. There were funny cultural nods (including to Krispy Kreme donuts) and postmodern asides, as well as a man in a bubble wrap suit somersaulting across the stage.
The confusion came with the onset of the audiovisual aids - the screens and video/slides seemed more of a hindrance than an enhancement. Dancers were jammed between screens showing video footage of the self-same performances of yesteryear. The seduction of a retrospective great, especially one with the rich history of ODC, but I found myself thinking, "Just let them dance!" I would have preferred stills of past performances, and have the dancers bring them to life again. Also, there seemed to be an "in-crowd" thing going - especially during the long series of black and white slides with no accompanying dance. If you hadn't been present for the glory days, you were left drumming your fingers on your armrest a bit.
The next work was Hugging the Shore, choreographed by Brenda Way. The music was unique and engaging, with a score featuring jazz artists Lenny Pickett and the Borneo Horns, Medeski, Martin & Wood, and the rhythmic vocal work of Sheila Chandra. On a semi-dark stage, five men in black shorts and boots repeatedly encounter a mysterious female (Monique Strauss). Although the score was compelling, and the signature athleticism of the company was on full display (there are some fabulous male pair sequences, and Strauss is a visual delight in black taffeta and combat boots), the work didn't succeed for me in "making it new". There was a very interesting play on language, breath, and sexuality, and the work improved near the end, with a finale of discordant staccato syllables and deep breathing as the work grew slow, ponderous, and introspective. I have to admit I had some "Survivor: Boot Camp" mental images (I swear I have only seen the preview!), and the relentless aggressive confrontation between principals became overwhelming. It may be that I need more of a narrative to hang on to than was available here. It worked as a mood work, but it wasn't a mood I was enchanted with, or wanted particularly to be in at the moment. I can understand the seduction of a really concentrated act, and the dancers had a lethal focus during this work, but I found myself wanting to check my watch about halfway through.
After the intermission, How to track a Hurricane made it's world premiere. KT Nelson's playful and theatrical work for a trio of dancers (Yukie Fujimoto, Brian Fisher, and Silfredo La O Vigo) was like a ray of sunshine after a storm. Set to the soulful blues of Dr. John, which included a narrative of its own on producing blues music, Hurricane was an airy extravaganza complete with fanning of the principals with a work of aluminum siding. The costumes were charming (by Jackson Lowell): Fujimoto in a white sundress, Fisher in black shirt and pants and Clark Kent glasses, both sporting bright yellow slickers. La O Viga, as hurricane personified, was shirtless in bright red pants. The narrative was engulfing (not only Fujimoto but the audience as well gets seduced by the hurricane) and the time-honored juxtaposition of innocence and temptation got a refreshing revival here.
The real gem of the night was KT Nelson's second work, They've Lost Their Footing, with music by Swedish rock-folk group Hoven Droven. Because it was originally commissioned by the Diablo Ballet, this work has a more classic feel, and uses the full ensemble. It has everything to love: great costumes (bright colored tights and black mini-skirts for the women, vests and black sailor pants for the men), great energy, interesting music, narrative with tenderness, emotion, and intimacy, and virtuoso performances. Khamla Somphanh does an amazingly fluid and sensual lead, and you can't take your eyes off Felipe Sacon whose exuberance, sensuality, and extension are awe-inspiring. If you need a litmus test for the overall impression of this performance, let it be known that the audience required the entire ensemble to bow, and bow, and bow once more.
Edited by Marie.