Winter-Spring Preview: Experience Something New, Jan 2009

By Rita Felciano

January 1, 2009, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Watching Bay Area dance is rewarding because the offerings are so varied and rich. Watching Bay Area dance is frustrating because the offerings are so varied and rich. Both statements are true.

In Dance readers, in all probability, are primarily dance professionals, varied and rich in experience and interest. In all likelihood they also are dance lovers with limited time and even more limited disposable income. So what to take in during the upcoming spring season?

One suggestion would be to step outside your comfort zone. While it’s important to support your colleagues—as they do you—and attend their concerts, it’s equally essential to stretch your own imagination. Think about the Izzies (usually last Monday in April). One of the reasons that this annual celebration of local dance is such a buoyant event is that for that one time a year dance becomes Dance. Is there anyone you have seen at those festivities whose work you thought you actually would like to go and see sometime?

If you are a committed Bharata Natyam dancer, why not take a chance on seeing someone’s highly experimental work or a different type of classicism? Find out how they use space, time, music and their bodies. Or if you think you learned enough about Paul Taylor or Alvin Ailey in college—and on tape—you might be surprised at watching “the real thing.” Or if you think to much dance is all about technique—hip hop, ballet—take another look at how dancers transcend the rigors of their training. If you value structure above all, you might want to invest in an evening of work in which control and freedom hold each other at bay. Is the term “theatrical” in connection with dance negative or positive? Why not have your perspective challenged by an artist you are pretty sure is of little interest to your own development? You never know, at the very least you’ll walk away with a better understanding of yourself.

The following bouquet—from the rich plethora of dance offerings this spring—might be of interest because of either the sheer mastery of the work and/or at least the promise of worthwhile investigations of dance parameters (At printing time not all of the exact dates had been nailed down).

A trio of electric pop artists groups, traveling under the collective title of Japan Dance Now (Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Jan. 29-31), and Pappa Tarahumara’s mythic Ship in a View (same location, Feb. 19-21) will certainly shake up simple-minded perceptions of what’s happenin’ in Japan.

STREB Extreme Action (Lively Arts, Stanford University, Jan 24). Elizabeth Streb’s questions are fascinating. How far can the body physicality be pushed? And what, if any, is the expressive purpose of such experimentation? Is there an element of voyeurism in these shows? For this performance Streb’s own dare devil dancers are supplemented by Stanford alums and student gymnasts.

Bellydance Superstars (Marin Center, San Rafael, Feb 15). Though a little overly slick in its production values, last year’s show was an eye opener of gorgeous witty female dancing, flavored with native touches from its international artists. For pure fun, they can’t be beat.

Deep Waters Dance Theater (CounterPulse, San Francisco, Mar 5-7). She may have earned her spurs with Urban Bush Women but at her concert at Laney College last October, Amara Tabor Smith proved that she is her own person: a powerful dancer and an intriguing choreographer. So what will she do during this residency?

San Francisco Ballet (War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, Mar 12-25). It’s a very conservative season with Helgi Tomasson reprising what he considers the most viable of last year’s 75th Anniversary commissions. But the highlight will be Antony Tudor’s Le Jardin aux Lilas. Restraint, passion, immaculate structure. It’s never been topped but where did that come from in 1936?

Jess Curtis/Gravity (CounterPulse, San Francisco, Mar 19-29). The Symmetry Project was physical and abstract, boundary-pushing and lyrical, literal and imagistic. This is an extended version of asking fundamental questions about the body as a cultural construct.

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange (Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, San Francisco, April 18-19). Small Dances about Big Ideas is Lerman’s latest attempt to translate social issues into dance using inter-generational performers. Based on input from the audience, the piece investigates Holocaust memories.

Paul Taylor Dance Company (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, Apr 29-May 3). Just because they are back, and he is a genius. The company is bringing old and newer repertoire; the most recent Beloved Renegade is inspired by Walt Whitman.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard (Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, April 10-11). At their Bay Area debut last year these sleek, slickly performers didn’t match Chouinard’s reputation as the bad girl of Canadian dance. Maybe we’ll find out now. Afternoon of a Faun is the 1987 solo that propelled Chouinard into controversy. This being Diaghilev’s centenary, Afternoon is paired with the 1993 The Rite of Spring.

ODC/Theater’s presenting abilities are somewhat curtailed because financial reasons have sent them home, to ODC’s Dance Commons. But tentative plans for May include a double bill for Seattle’s SaltHorse, and Katie Faulkner’s fresh-voiced little seismic dance company, and Jacintha Vlach’s full-company take on Animal Farm.

The 2009 San Francisco Arts Festival (multiple venues, May 20-June 7) is back with an impressive line-up. (Anybody listening at City Hall?) If nothing else the programming, which includes Sasha Waltz, the Ballet Nacional de Peru, the Akhe Group, and Cho-In Theatre from South Korea will put up an international mirror to local dance makers.

Think what you want of Mark Morris Dance Group (Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, May 29-31). His L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato is a master piece. Now twenty years old, Morris has never topped himself in his ability to shape large-scale forces and imprint a great piece of music with his own stamp. For Allegro reading the libretto is worthwhile.

This article appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of In Dance.

Born in Switzerland and educated there and at UC Berkeley, Rita Felciano wrote on dance for the San Francisco Bay Guardian for over two decades and Dance View Magazine not quite as long. She still is a Contributing Editor to Dance Magazine and writes for the danceviewtimes website.