November 27, 2011

“Pick Cells”
Dance Mission Theater

San Francisco, CA

November 11–13, 2011

Performance reviewed: Nov. 12

The Bay Area is a hotbed for mixed media, dance theater, and politically engaged experiments. So choreographer Raissa Punkki’s formal restraint, subdued imagery, and focus on the dancing body feels almost like a new idea. “Pick Cells,” a compilation of five smallish pieces performed as one unit, was Punkki’s first full-evening presentation after moving to San Francisco from Finland in 2005.

Though the program’s sequential logic was not entirely convincing, the individual parts, with one exception, communicated their intent clearly and with considerable conviction. At this point, Punkki excels in finely chiseled miniatures that take an idea and explore its implications: She is particularly skillful at creating suspense through an elastic use of time.


In numbERs, danced by Punkki, the soloist appears buffeted to and fro as if in a wind tunnel. Giving into and fighting that force becomes a struggle on constantly shifting ground. Albert Mathias score of children’a voices, reciting and messing up number sequences, gave the piece its appropriate aural component. Reality is a slyly amusing trio for Jennifer Meek, Sarah Keeney, and the older and smaller Punkki. She insidiously worms her way into the barely existing space between the two women. They challenged the intruder with an ever-tightening circular run.

Pulling time like taffy was at the core of two works. Weightingroom, with a sound score made by the dancers’ rustling paper costumes (by Claire Pasquier), was inspired by a railroad station’s waiting area. Its passengers sit, glare, and fuss until a mini-drama of attraction and rejection explodes between Patric Cushman and Keeney. Waiting develops as a single image. An inchoate mass under a huge, pleated cloth rises and evolves into rocks and other natural forms to end in the image of a shrouded, weeping female. It was the simplest of ideas yet so beautifully measured out that the final moments took your breath away.

The one misstep in this attractive program occurred in the middle with in 3D. Pascquier had created scintillating costumes, including masks and headdresses, for nine dancers, with the tall Cushman being a kind of leader. The audience was asked to put on 3D glasses, which made no sense, since a live performance is already three-dimensional. Perhaps the performers, processing around the stage, were meant to suggest shamans. But the choreography was so inconsequential and non-descript that they looked more like a group of Halloween revelers who got lost on their way home.



Photos, top to bottom: Patric Cashman and
Sarah Keeney
; Raisa Punkki. By Rob Kunkle, courtesy Dance Mission Theater.