Lizz Roman and Dancers

'Here is Good: Playing in Stable Places II'

by Lisa Claybaugh

May 2, 2003 -- Danzhaus, San Francisco, CA

I had apprehensions about reviewing this company. Of all the modern companies in San Francisco, I know this one the best. I have worked for them, my husband has danced for them, and I have taken classes from the choreographer. I probably should have recused myself from reviewing Lizz Roman & Dancers. On the other hand, since I am so familiar with the dancers, the choreographer and the process, I am perhaps better able to understand what went into this work and therefore better able to appreciate it. Whatever the reason, I was terrified I would not like this piece, but I did. Problem solved.

"Here Is Good" is being billed as a continuation of Roman’s successful run at the ODC Performance Gallery, where she completely overcame the space and danced on everything from the partition wall in the lobby to the stairs to the backstage door. I know; I was a stagehand. At Danzhaus, Roman has again completely taken over the space, and, as I understand with less resistance from the management to their credit. It is run the team that used to run Third Wave and it is beautiful. Take note all you small companies out there: Check out this space. It is an excellent alternative to ODC or Dance Mission. Lizz has been experimenting with audience placement and how that changes the viewing experience. In this case, the audience is divided into three sections and placed in the loft, the downstairs hallway and the main space, which includes a balcony and a line of banquettes. A single dance is performed three times; the audience is moved and therefore able to see the dance from all sides.

Some viewing positions are more successful than others. The least successful was the loft area where dancers were moving in four different corners and things were missed, even when looking in the mirror (a trick suggested by the choreographer in her lobby speech). However, there were strong sections in the loft especially a duet between Nicole Dessoye and Ami Student, with Dessoye dancing in the bathtub and Student doing the same movement on a bench outside the bathroom door. They stayed in amazing unison considering they could barely see each other from the different rooms. Unfortunately, there was an awkward pause at the end of the loft section when it was unclear whether timing was off with the other dancers in other parts of the building or Daniel Berkman was having trouble with his musical equipment. Thankfully all was forgotten by the care of the other sections.

Roman’s greatest talent lies in her ability to frame her dancers like a camera’s lens in the architectural features of the spaces she makes her dances in. This was particularly evident in the view from the hallway. The audience could see the narrow hallway, a railing bordering the main space and halfway up the stairs to the loft. The dancers danced on all of these features and due to the positioning of the door, we often saw only half the dancers, which succeeded in creating fascinating optical illusions (Is Jim floating in the air?) Jessy Tuddenham was particular strong in the hallway, really nailing the movement and seeming to float over the concrete floor.

The main space offered a wealth of possibilities most of which were realized. There was much dancing against the walls (a Roman staple), which was engaging but not terribly innovative, but all was forgotten once the dancers started flipping over the backs of the banquettes and slithering off the railings. Elizabeth Donahue was particularly strong in this section. Much of the hallway dance could be seen from the main space but at a shifted angle, which explained away some of the optical illusions from before. It was a little like seeing the magic trick from backstage and finding out how it was done. The upstairs balcony with its broad railing could have offered a wealth of exciting possibilities, but the risks just weren’t ever fully taken. I would have loved to see some death defying stunts, but the real daredevils of Lizz Roman & Dancers have taken leaves of absences, so the balcony section was disappointing.

As always, Nicole Dessoye proved herself to be Lizz Roman’s best dancer, the most beautiful lines the most professional demeanor. She finds the delicate balance between acknowledgement and ignorance of the audience, difficult to find when they are 18 in. away in some places. Ami Student had difficulty connecting with many of the other dancers and that may be because he is a new addition to this company. Jessy Tuddenham also had this problem (she was especially badly matched with Sean Dorsey) but really shone in her solo sections, especially in the hallway. James Soria, Elizabeth Donahue, and Christine Carlson all looked stronger and more secure, as if they are growing into the movement and becoming more comfortable. Nancy Salumbides again made a nice partner for Dessoye, matching her line for line. Linda Case, who can at times seem to be dancing in another world, was pleasantly present and her dancing was strengthened for it. Sean Dorsey could still use some attention to technique, but was over all strong and stable.

This was the perfect concert to introduce this new dance space to the dancing public, for we got to see all of it. Special recognition should go to Clyde Sheets who once again completed a very difficult task with artistry and aplomb. Daniel Berkman also must be complimented on his music, which has gotten richer and deeper as he becomes a more experienced composer.

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