Paco Gomes and Dancers

December 8, 2006

Paco Gomes and Dancers
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco, CA

December 8–9, 2006

Reviewed by Rita Felciano

Elizebeth Randall and Travis Rowland in The Red Scarf, choreographed by Paco Gomes

Photo by Weidong Yang, courtesy Paco Gomes and Dancers

In his first full-evening concert in San Francisco, where he relocated in 2004 from his native Brazil, Paco Gomes proved himself an absorbing storyteller. His is a fresh voice in Bay Area dance.

If Gomes were a writer, he probably would pen parables. As a choreographer, he creates sharply chiseled narratives whose twists turn expectations upside down. In Shoes generosity killed; in two segments of Many Pieces, friendship turned into hate (“Two Minutes Before a Slap in the Face”) but greed resolved into sharing (“A Little Conflict”). Although these moral tales had a charm of their own, what intrigued was Gomes’ silken but lightening-fast phrases that coiled and bent but stayed on track. The dancers performed these miniatures with spunk and infectious enthusiasm.

The concert also included larger pieces, The Red Scarf and Offering the most successful of them. According to the program notes, the beautifully timed Red Scarf examined pride. What the piece clearly did was evoke a dream state in which Elizebeth Randall gradually ascended toward some kind of transcendence. Her trajectory was cleverly set up by constantly shifting platforms—apparently a symbol of the biblical Jacob’s Ladder—which allowed her to progress without setting foot on the ground.

With the ritualistic Offering, based on Candomblé, a religion of natural phenomena, Gomes switched gears, moving from a modern dance vocabulary to one that included elements of Afro-Brazilian dance practices. As he showed in the solo for Amalá, another Candomblé-inspired work, Gomes is an extraordinarily skilled Afro-Brazilian dancer. So his commingling of the two dance languages comes from a thorough knowledge of both. The mix had integrity and felt natural on the bodies of these dancers, who expressed themselves as easily through shoulder rolls and vibrating torsos as in headstands and arabesques. Offering was designed simply, with a sextet of primarily unisons enfolding a duet.

The third part of Many Pieces, “The Date,” a charming walking duet of growing attraction for Travis Rowland—the only male in the ensemble of nine—and Randall, showcased the latter as the romantic dancer she is. The framing action—restaurant workers getting a table ready for the couple—added a note of the mundane to the lovers’ self-absorption, but its sense of humor could stand some refinement.

Also on the program was Think About It, a rather simplistic rendering of the story of Pandora’s box. Rowland acted as a Diogenes figure, snapping it closed again. Isn’t the parable’s point that this is impossible to do? See