Dimensions Dance Theater

November 12, 1999

Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company &
Dimensions Dance Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
San Francisco, California

November 12-13, 1999

Reviewed by Sima Belmar

Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company and Dimensions Dance Theater’s second collaboration, Detours?Common Ground II, opened with a woman crouched near a candle. As the lights rose, another woman, upstage center, walked slowly forward. A third entered from downstage left with an umbrella. The slow-moving woman crumpled to the floor. A fourth woman entered, walking backward toward the crumpled woman, and lay a coat over her. Fade to black.

From this delicate sequence, however, Detours took a wrong turn. In an effort to use dance as a vehicle for what the U.N. is calling “a culture of peace,” the Chinese and African-American companies slipped on the banana peel of political correctness.

When drums began to sound in the darkness and night clouds appeared across the background, two groups of seven women entered from opposite corners of the stage. The torso undulations of the Dimensions dancers contrasted with the bowed heads of Cai’s group, what the Jets and Sharks might have looked like as women living in a culture of violence. As they approached one another and made contact, hand-wringing, forehead-touching, torso-writhing gestures of despair made the obvious all too obvious: that race relations in America are a tricky thing and being female just adds to the complexity.

From these literal expressions of despair followed some beautiful dancing. Jumps and leaps moved from sorrow to joy and back again. A sextet moving in slow circles posed in the fog upstage while a trio of dancers hopscotched and double-dutched their way downstage. When Lily Cai’s dancers were allowed to be their classically trained selves and Dimensions performed in Deborah Vaughan’s Afro-modern jazz medium, the juxtaposition was naturally moving. But the constant costume differentiation and unsuccessful attempts at integrations through trading choreographic tendencies appeared to accentuate stereotypes rather than transcend them.

Matthew Antaky’s lighting buoyed the performance, while the music by Gang Situ and Gary Schwantes mired it in contemporary fusion versions of Asian and African rhythms that lent flavor instead of meat to the movement. Thematically, moments of anger or friendship would erupt without context, clouding any sense of emotional development.

A sequence that brought the two companies into sartorial unison?everyone’s head covered in a red sheath?blatantly represented our automatized existence. The dancers darted around like robotic hieroglyphs, poking with their index fingers, typing, answering phones. The computerized music served to drive home this unmistakable Silicon Valley point.