ODC/San Francisco

April 20, 2000

ODC/San Francisco dancers Brian Fisher, Heather Tietsort, Shannon Mitchell.
Photo by RJ Muna

ODC/San Francisco

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, California

April 20?30, 2000

Reviewed by Rita Felciano

The highlights of ODC/San Francisco?s Dancing Downtown series were three premieres, each of which imparted its own shot of adrenaline to the three programs. Choreographer Brenda Way introduced her new works: Hugging the Shore, for a quintet of males with female obbligato, and the 1920s-kissed Crash, and included her masterly Investigating Grace (1999).

Also new to the United States was KT Nelson?s intriguingly vertical and appropriately named Standing Here, which the company premiered in Germany last year. At its core resides an emotional tug-of-war among Shannon Mitchell, Private Freeman and Felipe Sacon. Unfortunately set to Philip Glass?s super-facile Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, this newest Nelson creation nevertheless affirmed her position as an independent voice in the triumvirate of ODC choreographers (Way, Nelson and Kimi Okada).

Additionally, the two-week season featured older works, including Way?s darkly luminous Force of Circumstance, Nelson?s River (from her quasi-narrative period) and her Diablo Ballet commission Walk Before Talk, as well as Okada?s intermittently witty Red Yellow Blues.

set to an odd pitter-patter collage score which included such disparate musicians as Sheila Chandra and Lenny Pickett, seems to have grown out of last year?s Investigating Grace. In that work, ODC?s male dancers at one point rolled diagonally down stage like so many logs coming down a slope. Hugging takes that kind of relaxed but momentum-building physicality and explores relationships among the males of the species. They infused a rubbery, rather heavy bounce to their line dives and obligatory basketball moves, but there was also an endearing overgrown-pup naivete to the way these men partnered each other, both tenderly and robustly. They may be the testosterone-driven part of humanity, but there was not an aggressive impulse anywhere. The piece excellently showcased the individuality of ODC?s current group of male dancers. To put into this mixture a lone woman, at first as a slinky, slightly sinister observer but eventually absorbed into the quintet, was a brilliant stroke. Yukie Fujimoto?s fierce physicality and sinuous lines created that all-important context for the piece.

For Crash, Jay Cloidt wrote an intriguing, slightly fractured sound score based on popular music from the 1920s. Individual tunes, at first recognizable, gradually became abstracted without ever quite evaporating. Crash picked up the thread Way had spun in such earlier works as The Laundry Cycle, the “Dirt” section of Western Women, maybe even Loose the Thread. These pieces are her way of looking bemusedly and a little skeptically at the way we lead our lives. Crash is a wonderfully entertaining but dark-underbellied spoof of the current generation of high rollers who, just like their counterparts in the ?20s, think the boom times will go on forever. It opens with the dancers on their backs like bugs who can?t right themselves. But as they spring into action, the women stalking and primping, the men strutting and grabbing, Crash?s initial ascending and accelerating trajectory begins to slow, with dancers unbalanced, running in place and hanging like carcasses over each other. In the end they are all sucked downstage right, mouthing empty words to an invisible light source.

Nelson?s Standing Here attempts to look at the idea of intrusion and separation. Mitchell was cast as a kind of searcher trying to find a place for herself, at first within the context of duets, then in the central trio, which, however, never made it clear whether she was an intruder or being intruded upon. A basic encircling motif?gesturally with “writing” on the air or the ground, and more physically by stepping and turning into partner?s barely open port de bras?served as the building blocks for this quietly attractive piece.

ODC?s current dancers look splendid. The most recent recruits, power packs Fujimoto, Jenifer Golden and lanky, Cuban-trained Silfredo La O Viga, have absorbed the company?s joyous physicality as if by birthright, while veterans Brian Fisher and Mitchell danced as if there were no tomorrow. For the latter. that happens to be the case, since after sixteen years with the company, she retired at the end of the season.