Theater archives

Brains of the Outfit


At Danspace Project, launching their talk forum “A Think Tank Braves the Whole Can of Worms,” Mary Overlie and Paul Langland improvised a tribute to the sanctuary at St. Mark’s. Brainstorming with about 30 participants, Overlie urged dancers to drop their poverty mentality—their individualistic, survivalist ethic—and to strengthen their community and assert their worth. “Dance is not respected in this society because you can’t make money from it,” she said, “but I’m ready to fight back.” She foretold a future of artists bravely plunging into chaos and possibility. Various proposals—a massive ad campaign, cooperative fundraising, bringing contact improv into corporate boardrooms, a citywide free-admission weekend, rehearsals in public spaces—remain to be fleshed out, but attendees seemed heartened and motivated. One remarked, “There’s something unstoppable about an idea that’s true.”

A similar communal vision guided “In Her Eye—ten reports from the interior” (WAX). Fiona Marcotty and Laura Staton curated works by numerous women in contemporary dance, the order reshuffled over eight nights, two shows apiece—a great way to be fed from an array of generous tables. I caught an hour featuring Marcotty and Valerie Striar and another with Amy Cox and Roseanne Spradlin, all adventurous. Striar dared to display her heart’s emotions; deploy lush, painterly images; and even allow herself to be upstaged by four adorable tots. Marcotty employed the soulless, dark glamour usually associated with fashion photography and the shock value of total male nudity. Spradlin, in a nightmarish revisiting of her Dust Bowl origins, risked the revelation of painful secrets. The only misfire: Cox’s experiments with video, sound, and movement that made bodies look like worn, defective machinery or sacks of trash.

Ballet Hispanico has always worked hard for our pleasure. However, on one evening during its two-week December season at the Joyce, the dancers looked more dutiful than sparkling in their opener—William Whitener’s semi-balletic Ola Chica. The crowd held them at a polite distance. People sat on their hands, letting the perfect little applause-break moments die in shocking silence. There are big companies every bit as showy and safe for conservative fans as Ballet Hispanico—I won’t name names, but you know them—that regularly win applause and cheers throughout their dances.

New works by Ramón Oller and Pedro Ruiz established the troupe’s women as well-rounded performers—technically sharp, ebullient, sensitive actors. Oller’s Eyes of the Soul offered an elegy to the exemplary Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (danced by Ruiz), a moving portrayal of his marriage, his blindness, and his expansive spirit. The movement tended toward the high-strung and gushy; some props were clunky and ill-used. However, Jennifer DePalo, partnering Ruiz with reassuring poise, watchfulness, and direct engagement, rose above it all—Rodrigo’s unseen North Star and ours as well.

I much preferred Ruiz’s own Club Havana, a panoply of Latin music and dance styles spanning the last century—the son, mambo, cha-cha, bolero, rhumba, and conga. The women glittered in their Emilio Sosa finery; their male partners became monotonous, if natty, stems to their glorious, unfurling flowers. Lifted, twirled, dipped backward in dramatic swoons, the women were the music while it lasted, embodying melodic fluidity, witty rhythms, and sexy elegance. The work had genuine substance and craft backing up its Broadway-ready sizzle. Finally, everyone gave it up for a deserving troupe. —Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Configurations, a duet between Dennis O’ Connor and Australian dancer Linda Sastradipradja (Joyce Soho, December), attempted to create gender mayhem—what we saw was not necessarily what we get through movement, text, and costume. The text, spoken in turn by the dancers, was taken from medical case studies of hermaphrodites, men and women who were born equipped with the sexual organs and functionings of both sexes. In response to the clinical reports, the dancers—wearing skintight pants and backless vests of plastic chunks threaded scantily together—explored movement phrases heavily initiated from the pelvis, suggesting this area of the body as the main site of gender ambiguity. While the relationship of choreography to the text was tentative, the costumes, rather than androgynizing the dancers, actually emphasized their different genders and were no more helpful in exploring this potentially intriguing topic.

The other two works presented by O’Connor’s company were, on the whole, insubstantial—a hodgepodge of ideas clearly enjoyed by the dancers but halfheartedly communicated to the audience. —Josephine Leask

A performance by American Ballet Theatre’s young Studio Company at the Kaye Playhouse on December 13 focused in on three bright stars. Misty Copeland had honey and iron in her bones; she was charming but in charge in the Act III pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. Masayoshi Onuki, in the premiere of Robert Hill’s Helix, brought power and control to the point of ecstasy in a punching, coiling, leaping solo. Best of all was Julia Adam, a principal at San Francisco Ballet and an Isadora Duncan Award-winning choreographer, who premiered her ballet Won to a live string quintet by Matthew Pierce. With vivid pictures—a diagonal of contrapuntal runners, a chariot-shaped mass of bodies—and fluid speed, Adam’s dance was witty and collected, filled with intelligent surprises. —Alicia Mosier