Summerfest : West Wave Dance Festival 2003

Program V: 'River at the End of the Land,' 'Shadows of Tiny Things,' 'Samsara,' 'Little Girl Lost,' 'Voiceprint'

Program VI: 'Shadows, Whispers and Sighs,' 'Floating Ridge,' 'Laulu Palju, 'lessness,' 'In This Life We Will Be...,' 'Las Vicisitudes'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

July 24, 26, 2003 -- Cowell Theater, Fort Mason , San Francisco , CA

I admit, every year I approach Summerfest's West Wave Dance Festival with trepidation. There is an anticipation of what wonderful discoveries there might be, mixed with the knowledge that if I don't have enough coffee beforehand, I might not be awake by the time the good stuff rolls around.

Still, one has to give enormous credit to an institution that regularly puts the work of developing choreographers before the public, and which has the guts to offer twenty-one world premieres. And though the myriad of navel-gazing, self-exploration works, peopled with dancers in yoga pants and tank tops, all run into one unmemorable mush, one has to appreciate the fact that so much good, solid dance-making is going on in spite of budgetary cutbacks, loss of dance space and general political disinterest in the arts in this country.

The two most "produced" programs of the six offered, were at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason , which is an intimate space that is perfectly suited to the works on Summerfest's bill.

Program V, ranged the farthest stylistically, from the yoga-ballet inspired "Samsara" choreographed by Michael Kruzich, to Liss Fain's abstract, modern "River at the End of the Land" set to Hamza al-Din’s “Escalay,” although a common thread of earnest seriousness ran through all of the works.

Fain’s work has a pleasing geometry and dynamical approach, although it could have benefited from a clearer focus – Fain seemed to be getting at something conceptually with the appearance of an “interloper,” costumed slightly differently, although I never did figure out what.

Possibly the most interesting and clear-eyed work was Mary Carbonara’s “Little Girl Lost.” Set to a series of chatty monologues that illustrate the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, the work structurally breaks no new ground. However, Carbonara has a born story-teller’s talent -- similar to that of Robert Moses’ (for whom she also dances) -- and she demonstrates an instinct for layered movement and text that can be both aesthetic and movingly intelligent.

Program VI, offered works from some of the Bay Area’s better known choreographers such as KT Nelson (of ODC/SF), Janice Garrett, Mark Foehringer, and Amy Seiwert, some of whose work appeared on the Choreographers & Composers program earlier in the month. In watching the works, which were probably among the most polished of the whole festival, I couldn’t help but be struck by the difference between the collaborative program and the last, which one presumed was meant to be the culmination of the festival. The energy that live music lends to dance performance can never be underestimated, and it was that dynamic that I missed in this program.

As a last note, since I’ve mentioned music, I must also mention another component which drew my attention during these shows, and that was lighting design. The estimable Sara Linnie Slocum lit several of the works on Summerfest’s programs, and her crisp designs only highlighted the muddiness of so many of the other works. Good lighting added beauty and dramatic tension, whereas bad lighting only helped to put me to sleep. A plea to choreographers everywhere: try to find lighting, music and design professionals to work with. It can only elevate your own work.

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