Amy Seiwert and Imagery
SKETCH 2, The Women Choreographers: The Inconstant, Sleep Sketches, In the Time
San Francisco, ODC Theater
2 August 2012
Daniel Santos’ Farewell Performances
Summer Sampler: Cut-Out Guy, Unintended Consequences, Part of a Longer Story
San Francisco, ODC Theater
11 August 2012
In the space of ten days, in the same theater, we see a show from a young contemporary ballet company introducing new work from three established women choreographers and then a forty-one-year-old modern dance company presenting one new and two older works by its resident women choreographers in a farewell performance for ten-year veteran Daniel Santos. Arrivals and departures, the vicissitudes of life.
The idea behind Amy Seiwert’s SKETCH 2 is to promote women ballet choreographers. Included in the press kit was an informal survey of twenty-four ballet companies with income over $5 million in the United States. Of the 302 works to be performed this upcoming season only 27 were by seventeen women. The numbers speak for themselves, but the reasons for this lop-sidedness are more complex. I haven’t the time to do the research on modern dance companies, but despite pioneers like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, I suspect that now even the prominent modern troupes have a similar imbalance. It could be that the glass ceiling for female choreographers of any stripe is even lower than in other professions like business, law and medicine where women have made huge strides in the last 40 years.
Seiwert wants to offer other women choreographers a place where they can work with a small company of excellent dancers and have the freedom to break through the limitations they might have when creating commissioned work for companies not their own; in other words, a safe laboratory where terpsichorean alchemists can cut loose.
The evening’s opener by Gina Patterson is The Inconstant with an amalgam of music by Alberto Igelsias, Max Richter, Dave Watkins, Olafur Arnals and David Troy Francis. This is a complex work on many levels, from the choreographic layering and the reuse of movement phrases in several contexts to the way Patterson moves the dancers in the space, either as larger groups, intimate couples or solo performers, often juxtaposing them or playing them off each other. The dancers certainly rise to the occasion, with Peng-Yu Chen as the fickle protagonist and Brandon Freeman her frustrated partner anchoring the piece and the rest of the excellent cast – David Barocio, Jamielyn Duggan, Rachel Furst, Sarah Griffin, Weston Krukow and Ben Needham-Wood – providing the ebb and flow that separates and brings them together over and over. Hidden gems are Griffin and Barocio who move so tenderly in tune with each other in their partnering while Freeman unleashes a gamut of emotions.
Julia Adam’s Sleep Sketches could be the comedy version of her piece, Night, made for the Discovery Program at San Francisco Ballet in 2000. The older piece very successfully explored the surreal world of the mind while it drifts in and out of dreams and employed an original score by Matthew Pierce. This new one uses some overexposed piano works of Chopin, Satie and Stravinsky which contribute effectively to the sleep theme yet push the cliché button in my brain. The first strains of the Chopin trigger a jolt of Jerome Robbins’s The Concert that I never recover from like a Pavlovian dog. The choreography is well-crafted, the dancers are obviously enjoying themselves and the audience is clearly pleased. A piece of fluff never hurts anyone, but Adam is also capable of much deeper work and I wish this were an occasion to see some of it.
In the Time choreographed by Amy Seiwert is the only piece using live music. The a capella duo Ramon & Jessica, whose singers, Dina Maccabee and Jesse Olsen Bay, provide a backdrop of deceptively simple songs that blend folk and pop. Seiwert’s choreography is some of her clearest to date as she moves easily from material based on gesture to ballet-flavoured contemporary and back again. Her dancers attack incisively and with an understanding that brings out the best in the movement. Griffin shines once more; she approaches her segments with a glowing focus, not a sharp attack, but a gentle freedom. She never shows the effort, only the lustrous result.
SKETCH 2 is successful in bringing the work of women choreographers to San Francisco and Seiwert’s company, Imagery, also benefits from working with outside artists. But, in the end, the work itself doesn’t feel so radical or innovative, however beautifully constructed and wonderfully danced.
Just over a week later ODC/Dance presents its Summer Sampler. One of the points of this concert is to allow the audience to see the company in the intimate setting of a 180-seat performance space instead of at the Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts which holds 750. The second reason is that it is a farewell concert for Daniel Santos, who after 10 years with the company, is leaving to explore what he wants to do next.
With an all-male cast, Cut-Out Guy by KT Nelson, which premiered earlier this year, opens the program. Macho music filled with the sounds of military manoeuvers, trucks and helicopters running amok through the techno score propels the “warrior” men in their athletic, competitive, combat-coloured choreography. Just when it reaches saturation point, the atmosphere suddenly shifts gears and a caring comraderie emerges. Strong dancing by the entire cast – Dennis Adams, Justin Andrews, Corey Brady, Daniel Santos, Jeremy Smith – but Brady brings more emotional intensity to both sides of the coin and Santos seasons his nuanced movement with balletic ballon (the French term for a light bouncing quality in jumps) and clarity.
Brenda Way’s Unintended Consequences from 2008 proves to be a bit too literal for my taste as it echos Laurie Anderson’s music and words. But the dancers are very good despite some cutesy moments. Close on its heels is another by Way, Part of a Longer Story (Parts I & II) set to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622. The section for five women in Part I stands out – first short solos for each one, then as an ensemble working in unison, and finally divided into a trio and a duo where one member of the trio leaves to join the duo making a new trio and repeating this realignment several more times without dropping a step.
Part II is a pas de deux for Santos and Vanessa Thiessen, formerly of Smuin Ballet. If ever there were a perfect ending for a farewell concert, this is it. Both dancers “speak” ballet fluently and this makes their partnering all the more exquisite. Their rapport is so finely-tuned that the ensuing harmonics reverberate without end. At the final moment, as Thiessen walks slowly upstage into the shadows and Santos, as far downstage as possible, reaches out with one arm beyond the audience, I have tears in my eyes.