Garrett + Moulton Productions
Four Acts of Light & Wonder: The Mozart, Ball Passing Plus, Hunting Gathering, Gojubi
11 August 2019
San Francisco, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
I’ve said it before – the angst/joy balance in contemporary dance performances, especially lately, has been way off. Does it need to be a fifty/fifty split? No. Are the current narratives being explored important and urgent? Absolutely. But when you have show after show of the same halted, strained movements and somber, grim expressions, no matter how powerful or potent the message, performances inevitably start to run together.
But at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this past weekend, this imbalance delightfully shifted with Garrett + Moulton Productions’ home season entitled Four Acts of Light & Wonder. Filled with exuberance and beauty, the quadruple bill of premieres and reprises (each performed to live music) was refreshing and inspiring, while still maintaining the utmost artistic/technical rigor. Seriousness did make an appearance in one of the works, though the most apt descriptor for the entire program was joyful.
What a glorious beginning with 2017’s The Mozart, choreographed by co-Artistic Directors Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton. From the opening tableau to the final moment, the abstract sextet was elegant, refined and sought to explore the relationship between movement and a collection of Mozart works, expertly interpreted by pianist Allegra Chapman. Primarily adagio and andante in tempi, the chosen scores were imbued with delicacy, ornamentation and languid bass patterns, which were in turn reflected in the constant stream of movement. Precise hand and arm motions matched up with sonic trills – scooping and painting the space in one moment, shivering with excitement in another and gently tapping the solar plexus, allowing billowy breath to exit the body. Luxurious relevés and expansive upward gazes unfurled in the unhurried atmosphere.
Though I was thoroughly engaged throughout, many of Mozart’s segments and phrases looked fairly similar, so I was somewhat surprised to realize it was only a thirty-minute piece. The similarities made it feel much longer. And save for one brief, lovely nod, the dancers and the pianist did not acknowledge each other. I find that to be particularly curious when a work is mining the connection between sound and the body.
The sense of elation was so, so strong in Moulton’s Ball Passing Plus, the newest chapter in a choreographic series that Moulton explained, in his introductory remarks, dates back to an initial 1978 trio. Moulton went on to share that a volunteer, eighteen-member community ball passing team would perform this latest edition. So, I sat back in my seat, ready for a fun interlude in the program. I was not at all prepared for the impact of what I was about to see. As the balls were passed from cast member to cast member in intricate patterns and at varying speeds, fun, cooperation, teamwork and task completion were undeniable. It was such a beautiful scene of collective support and togetherness; I didn’t want to look away for a second. Company soloists eventually joined the revelry, the action accompanied by a live orchestra playing Jonathan Russell’s original score. Balls were thrown jubilantly in the air; smiles radiated from every participant. And during intermission, audience members were enthusiastically practicing the moves with their seatmates. Palpable, contagious joy.
Garrett’s Hunting Gathering was the only piece on the bill that left me feeling torn. There was much I enjoyed about the world premiere quintet: the muted jewel tones of Julienne Weston’s costumes; the sweeping, cinematic nature of Russell’s music; the variety of textures and dynamics in the choreographic phrases; a sober tone that was still underscored by levity. And there was an outstanding clarity of shape – sustained passés, prayerful gestures, long arabesques and rebounding curves. But Gathering never really landed for me. Drama and intensity definitely informed vignette after vignette, and yet, at the same time, emotions, moods and purpose felt fuzzy.
That fuzziness was short-lived as the program came to a close with the US premiere of Garrett’s Gojubi (2012). Performed by the company’s five dancers and six guest artists, the abstract work was a statement of total exuberance. The cast burst from the wings in brightly colored tanks and wide-legged pants, entering and exiting the space with vigor and jubilation. They took flight with a marriage of whimsy and expanse – fanciful jumps, angular postures and fluttery shoulders coupled with vast circular arms, huge barrel rolls and extended splits jumps. With its staccato runs and animal-like brass riffs (the trombone almost sounded like an elephant), Russell’s orchestral score had that same delicious duality. Gojubi was a triumph of constant, high-energy physicality with some of the most impressive precise unison work and spatial awareness I’ve seen in a long time, that I never wanted to end.