New Shoes, Old Souls

January 13, 1999

New Shoes, Old Souls Dance Company
Cowell Theater

San Francisco, California

January 13-23, 1999

Reviewed by Ann Murphy

Six years ago, a group of longtime Bay Area dancers got together and put on a show, and when they looked around and took count, they realized that theirs were unusual demographics. They were all over forty, with a few hundred years of dancing among them. Launched by Linda Rawlings–dancer, former futures broker, and cookie magnate–New Shoes, Old Souls Dance Company was a modest endeavor.

Six years later, the Our Gang concept has been thrown out the window, and all the razzmatazz attendant on mainstream performance has been glued to the production like subway posters. It turns out that if new shoes are all that old souls need, wisdom would fill the streets. It’s also apparent that if the feet have nothing meaningful to say, even new shoes can seem blasé.

The concept of a company of dancers who are all over forty, although not new, is a great one. Traditions such as flamenco, hula, bharata natyam, and kathak not only allow a place for older dancers but also have a reverential niche for them that acknowledges that, as the dancers’ breadth may narrow, their depth can intensify. What once might have been a virtuosic but callow step becomes, through the vehicle of an aging master, a distilled blast of emotional nuance. New Shoes, unfortunately, instead of finding ways to make age the essence of its dancing, seems to be looking nostalgically over its shoulder to a more limber past and saying plaintively, ³I can still dance.” In a culture and a profession wedded to youth, it is hard to do otherwise, but for New Shoes to justify its existence, it’s not enough that dancers over forty can dance. They have to have something unique to say.

The troupe came closest in Priscilla Regalado’s Encuentros entre Aliento y El Sol (³Meeting between Breath and the Sun”). Staged like a scene at a Latin club, in seven dance numbers the dancers hinted at the deep sensuality and intimacy in Latin dance, and how, with age, youthful ferocity and hunger can be replaced by mellowed and tender, if melancholy, acceptance of life. Although her own solo seemed constricted and her gestures had little narrative depth, Regalado allowed her body to express both its age and its beauty. She did the same for her eleven dancers.

Sadly, the evening’s source of fanfare, Morris Dances, assembled by Mark Morris from fragments choreographed by the dancers, was a sophomoric hodgepodge with only occasional moments–a line formation of modified jig steps performed in unison, Dudley Brooks on stilts–that were beautiful or whimsical. It was set to Gustav Holst’s arrangement of tunes for Morris dances.

Then there was Michael Smuin’s off-kilter My First Time, a dinner-theater number performed by three brave women–Emily Keeler, Jo Ellen Arntz, and Sharonjean Leeds–derived from their stories about the glories of making love for the first time. Although these women are baby boomers, Smuin set the tales to the forties-era music of Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, and Glenn Miller, then turned sixties sex into a 1950s stereotype of guys with big pectoral muscles necking with girls in steamy cars in a maudlin, prefeminist land.

Entre Deux Mondes (“Between Two Worlds”), by Carlos Carvajal, seemed like a waltz of mature lovers grasping after young love, making the romance anemic and foolish. Finally, Cecilia Marta, who was beautiful to look at, posed with and threw around a gold coat to the heavy bass beat of The Artist (formerly known as Prince) in her piece, Transcendence.

If these are old souls, they need a set of much wiser new shoes.