'Running Into Open Doors,' 'Remnants of Song,' 'Investigating Grace'

by Karen Drozda

March 7, 2003 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Two years ago,the ODC founders celebrated thirty years as an increasingly successful dance company. Their success appears undiminished this year, as they were greeted with frequent applause by San Francisco audiences Friday night.

This year's Dancing Downtown program at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts signals business as usual, despite lurking economic and political instability. Nothing seems to hold back the ODC dancers and choreographers. The lineup features premieres by all three company choreographers, Brenda Way, KT Nelson, and Kimi Okada, along with eight other company favorites.

With four separate programs, including the opening night gala and a matinee program, there's plenty of variety to choose from. If only there was a combination of programs that would allow the audience to see each of the dances only once.

Program One opened with KT Nelson's "Running into Open Doors" from 2001, to the music of Thomas Ades. According to Nelson, "Running into Open Doors" is about leaps of faith, and partly inspired by climbing trips to the Grand Canyon. Knowing this doesn't really add to the appreciation of the piece, whose underlying concept is not readily apparent to the audience.

The overall feeling is minimalist, pure white costumes rendered more abstract by the brilliant white lighting with pale aqua shadows. The female dancers' skirts float like sea anemones or jellyfish. Four men and four women make their way gracefully through a series of emotions and couplings, corresponding to musical moods. Unison formations with counterpoint soloists are artfully arranged. There is an overall sense of harmony, and the composition is a pleasure to watch despite the a nagging sense of superficiality.

Way's San Francisco premiere "Remnants of Song" is based on the love story of Peter Abelard and Heloise from the twelfth century.

The basic story of the lovers is simple. He is twice her age, and head of the cathedral school at Notre Dame in Paris. Heloise, his student, is seduced by Abelard and he is forced to marry her to make amends. He marries her secretly, then, fearing public disclosure, has her placed in a convent. Her uncle feels that she has been abandoned, and exacts a gruesome vengeance on Abelard.

This story provides a believable framework for the choreography. The group of nuns are dressed in black, with Heloise in red. The monks are dressed in brown, with Abelard in purple. Beyond that though, nothing is simple.

Heloise, danced by Yukie Fujimoto, demonstrates a more than familial relationship with another of the brown monks (her uncle), danced by Brian Fisher. Abelard, danced by Justin Flores, is as much an aggressor as a victim. This is where the art comes in.

The overall effect of the dance is a very credible depiction of the philosophical, political and moral confusion that reigned in the twelfth century. It was a time of revolutionary changes in many social, intellectual and cultural domains, shifting alliances and a shifting balance of power. Women in particular stood most to gain by these changes, and their voices began to be heard throughout the century as they explored new possibilities for self-determination. Heloise remains in her red dress, unrepentant and true to her love of Abelard. Abelard takes on the brown robe of a monk over his original purple, symbolic of diminished individuality and power.

And then without missing a beat we transition to the light frolic of Way's 1999 "Investigating Grace" to the music of Bach's "Goldberg Variations". Yellow sunlight and summer dress frame Private Feeman's opening solo. Joined by the rest of the company, it becomes vacation frolic, like college students on spring break. Romantic couples come together and drift apart, with friendships taking on the major role.

Way effectively uses the technique of placing dimly lit minor actions behind spotlighted main action drama. All of the athleticism and boundless energy of the company appears in classic ODC style-daring catches, sculptural lifts, and precision unison dancing. They are masters of absolute control masked by the illusion of random movement. We catch our breath as all of the male dancers enter with a cascade of diving side rolls. Brian Fisher's chain of tight turns starts straight across the stage, then turns and wanders back like a spinning top. Just when we are convinced that he is truly out of control he stops, walks calmly over to Jenifer Golden and carries her offstage.

Look for Tammy Cheney, Private Freeman, Monique Strauss, and Yukie Fujimoto in the upcoming film Matrix II: Reloaded. Congratulations to these dancers!

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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