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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Paint, Painting, Painter: Some Dances

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 9:24 AM

Photo by Natalia Perez
  • Photo by Natalia Perez

Post:Ballet rang in their fourth season with plenty of style July 18-19 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The large proscenium stage of the Lam Research Theater seems to demand a spectacle, and choreographer Robert Dekkers does not disappoint in that regard.

The Post:Ballet dancers are sleek, skilled, and very cool, the pointework solid, the jumps high, the lifts assured. There is no doubting the athleticism of the work, and Dekkers makes them do it all besieged by paint, sculptures, musicians, and projections.

In Colouring, a work from 2011, the curtain opens on a blank canvas flanked by Ashley Flaner and Domenico Luciano, dancers, facing one another in brief blue costumes. Dekkers, choreographer, Enrique Quintero, painter, and Daniel Berkman, composer, triangulate the stage wearing the head-to-toe black uniform of stagehands. Quintero makes the first advance with a broad horizontal streak across the canvas with a moderately dry brush of black paint shaping in a single line a landscape or a reclining figure. Dekkers signals to the dancers with his right hand. The dancers approach each other, begin a lift, and retreat. Berkman bows a candy apple red electric cello over his recorded score. The process is aggregative: the painter adds shapes to the painting, the choreographer adds steps to the dance, the musician adds sound to the air, all returning to their starting positions between sets.

Curiously, the piece is missing precisely what is indicated by its title: colo(u)r. While a painting can be composed of short interrupted strokes, dance as a series of stills has difficulty coming to life. The repetitions are perfectly executed replications without variation, never growing to an extended phrase or a feeling. One begins to watch other things: the toss of the hair out of the eyes, the costume tugged surreptitiously, the way the fingers dangle off the joint of the wrist, the blinks. One begins to observe the figures in black. The contract of the stage, in which we agree to see what is presented and ignore the bolts, wires, and labor, begins to fall apart, and it becomes clear that we are watching not a dance or performance art piece but a statement on composition and its tools.

Photo by Natalia Perez
  • Photo by Natalia Perez

The remainder of the evening showcased keen technique and complex structure. Sixes and Seven was the sparest piece of the program: a single dancer on a bare stage in a short nude unitard, the lights brought down to meet the floor. Jessica Collado danced with wicked virtuosity Thursday evening. When in Doubt, set to an intriguing score of the dancers' voices by Jacob Wolkenhauer, permitted the dancers no repose. Their limbs were in constant measured motion, like compasses, protractors, clock hands. Jane Hope Rehm fell repeatedly into the arms of two men, her fragility belied by her needle sharp legs. Jackie McConnell danced her segment with particular ferocity and zest.

In the company's premiere of field the present shifts, architect Robert Gilson's acrylic sculptures were strung from the ceiling like jellyfish trailing loose tentacles, behind, between, and through which dodged seven dancers in strapless ombre orange unitards adorned with stiff ruffles. At the back of the stage, a projection of pixels, dots, lines, nucleic acids, in the pit below, five violinists buzzed through Matthew Pierce's frenetic score. The effect was overwhelming.

Rehearsal photo of Life or Theater
  • Rehearsal photo of Life or Theater

Astrid Bas's Life or Theater, presented July 19-21, was described as a "project based on the life of Charlotte Salomon," a German-Jewish painter who died at Auschwitz in 1943. With nothing but a bench, a few chairs, and the plush red floor-to-ceiling curtains on three sides of ODC's Studio B, Bas created a work with no narrative or dominant aesthetic that achieved fleeting moments of beauty and feeling.

Bas teamed up with a motley group of dancers, as well as musicians and a filmmaker, to build the piece, which began with Courtney Russel clothed as an angel reading from Genesis. Emerging from a part in the red curtains, Antoine Hunter walked slowly about the stage, nearly levitating, inventing his own limbs with a flicker of the fingers and an extension of the leg. Isabella Roncaglio rose from the floor in a silk caftan, undulating frail arms with the translucence of an apparition crumbling into dust. Russel furled and unfurled her articulate limbs as Sabrina de Mio sang. Bas thrashed her legs as if waking from a nightmare. Ariana Cisneros leapt and played, a childlike imp.

Multiple scenes and times were indicated by the array of costumes and personae, but the overall passivity of the stage, with only one or two dancers moving at a time while the others remained seated or prone, produced the effect of a series of tableaux that seemed to highlight individuals and the unseen forces that guide them. The curtain opened on a blank screen for a film projection that didn't play. The pianist struck two chords.

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Irene Hsiao


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