Scott Wells & Dancers
At Ease, Parkour Deux
CounterPULSE, San Francisco
26 May 2012
Scott Wells starts At Ease with “Please turn off your cell phones” as he flips open his own as if about to demonstrate. “Oh, here’s a picture of my three-year-old son.” After a sweet but brief anecdote about the two of them, he’s talking about his own childhood growing up in a military family, moving every couple of years, always being a bit of afraid of his distant Air Force father.
“Forward march. Right face. Left face. Attention. At ease.” The dancers, improvising within a structure provided by Wells, execute short scenes drawing on movement and dialogue from military themes, as well as from everyday life. Some are serious and others toss-away light. None of them go on for very long and so don’t have time for deep development. The video of dancers projected onto the back wall shows them from angles that the audience can’t have from their seats and adds an interesting perspective. The oddball variety of music – Bach, Vivaldi, Led Zeppelin, Grito Tango, Stimmhorn, keeps the ambiance off-kilter. But this juxtaposition and layering of all these scenes makes me feel like an archaeologist sifting through earth, discovering shards of ancient Grecian urns and trying to assemble the stories depicted on them. “Let’s play another game,” suggests one dancer. Watching the parallels between child’s play and warfare, I am reminded of how our entire culture is insidiously colored by images of combat, competition, and abusive discipline. Perhaps in some Darwinian way we are genetically wired that way in order to survive. And yet, I also think about all the teamwork and trust that is required to wage a war or perform a dance. ( If I were in charge, the entire defense budget would go to the arts. Now that’s constructive esprit de corps.)
Somewhere in the middle I stop trying to glue the shards together and I envision a shattered mirror that reflects all too accurately our fragmented perception of the world and ourselves . By the end, the last line I hear lingers on, “I was only eighteen. I didn’t want to kill anyone.”
After the intermission, the invigorating Parkour Deux employs gigantic foam blocks encased in colorful vinyl upholstery; some look like enormous rectangular boxes, one like a mega-mattress, others like truncated wedges. As the dancers literally bounce off the walls, the blocks and each other, the audience experiences an intense vicarious thrill of flying through the air, being caught and launched in a new direction. The split-millisecond timing and meticulously rehearsed pandemonium gives everyone an adrenalin rush that could be addictive. While the dancers catch their collective breath, they do a send-up of a classical ballet barre that morphs into more high energy hijinks. In the quieter moments, the duets and trios can be touching or gently humourous. This is one of those performances I can honestly endorse as “not to be missed.”
For the twenty years his company has been around, Wells’s choreography has incorporated contact-improvisation, sports paraphernalia (balls of every size from ping pong to basketball, boxing gloves, skateboards), music from classical to rock, often in rapid succession, juggling and gymnastics. But the point is not to show the very offhand virtuosity of the dancers, but to see what emerges from the movement itself, to discover how dance can reveal the nature of our relationships to each other.
Scott Wells & Dancers will be performing this program again June 1-3 at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street, San Francisco.