Motion Lab

"Bodies of Evidence"

ODC Performance Gallery, San Francisco, CA

December 14, 2001
By Lisa Claybaugh

This was an evening-long celebration of the years long partnership of Kathleen Hermesdorf and Albert Mathias, the two halves of Motion Lab, with help from some other equally established San Francisco dance makers. At its strongest the performance showed the two artists playing in the arenas they excel in and at its worst was more of the same material we've seen from Hermesdorf for the last ten years.

First let me point out that I am not one of those San Francisco dancegoers who feels Kathleen Hermesdorf is an awe-inspiring goddess of dance. I think she is another one of the many talented women out there making interesting work, and would put her in the same category as Janice Garrett, KT Nelson, and Margaret Jenkins. Her strength is her ability to collaborate with many different kinds of artists, especially in small groups. Her weakness is a tendency toward complacency.

The first piece, Waeight, was a duet between the stars of the evening and began with a little mishap that kept the beginning of the piece light with onstage laughter and gave us a glimpse of the real Kathleen and Albert. The two performers danced a series of movements that spun into and away from each other, then Mathias entered his own world of electronic music, located downstage left, and handed off two drum pads to Hermesdorf, who strapped them to her thighs and proceeded to play around in his arena for a while. The duet was pure fun and a great way to start the celebration.

The next piece was a trio with Hermesdorf, Jo Kreiter and Sue Roginski. Trine had a meditative quality and the three were well matched in their styles and energy. Though some of the movement was interesting, the piece lacked structure and seemed to ramble on like an old relative. The music also had little drive or beat and after a few well turned phrases, it all ran together into one big blob of dynamic-less dancing and music.

The last piece before intermission, Windowdressing, was a collaboration with aerial artist Dominique Zeltzman. Once again the performers were well matched and it was apparent Hermesdorf was trying something new in hanging precariously from a trapeze. There were several set pieces and props strewn about that were briefly played with and quickly discarded. It made me wonder what the significance was of having them at all, besides the obvious tie-in to the title of the piece. The importance was reflected nowhere in the movement. Hermesdorf likes to use the putting on and taking off of clothes as a statement, but I, as a costume designer, have not figured out what that is. The movement itself was innovative and the partnering was some of the best of the evening.

The first piece after intermission, Matryosha (Nesting Dolls), was the strongest of the program with powerhouse performances by Patricia Jiron and Sri Louise. Louise especially projected an intense sensual energy, heightened by her yoga-trained physique that was impossible not to watch. Hermesdorf is a dynamic performer, she has a large onstage presence, and I have never seen her upstaged before. This was an obvious collaboration between the three dancers and a little clash of strong personalities was apparent at times. Overall though the piece had more dynamics and pure energy than any other and the use of props, though again puzzling, was effective and engaging. It was also nice to see professional costumes for a change.

Next came a short improvisational jaunt for Mathias using his body, his voice and a bass drum strapped to his chest. He deftly handled a heckler and let the audience in on a little secret in the world of training percussionists to play faster. It was a joy and was unfortunately less than three minutes long.

The last piece of the evening was a duet with Marintha Teksbury that started out in structure exactly like Windowdressing and Matryosha. That was not a problem with the first two pieces, but by the third it had become a tedious pattern. The use of quick movement "snapshots" is a favorite of choreographers and when used sparingly and appropriately it can be very effective and compelling. In this case, after having seen the gimmick twice before in the same evening, it was simply to be yawned at and flavored the rest of the dance. The two dancers were dressed in black cocktail dresses and veiled hats as if they were young widows at a post-funeral reception. There were images of being adrift and briefly connecting with a fellow traveler, but the images did not seem to be explored fully and the piece ended having never quite found its impact.

We must be impressed with Hermesdorf's stamina and capacity for retaining movement, as she was in every piece in the program. However, the strongest half of this partnership is Mathias, whose music continues to be at the cutting edge of his field. For a choreographer who has been making dances for the past decade, I was hoping for more polish and innovation from Hermesdorf. Maybe that's why I left the theater feeling vaguely disappointed.


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Edited by Marie.

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