Armitage Gone! Dance, The Novellus Theatre, May 19

21 May

S.F. Performances promoted Armitage Gone! Dance, its final dance presentation of the 2012 season, widely.  May 18 and 19 had its share of competition, Asian Heritage Day in front of the Asian Art Museum took up two blocks of Larkin and two of McAllister, forcing bus rerouting; a free event, it may have siphoned off the audience by the sheer size and number of its individual activities. San Francisco International Arts Festival was in its third and final weekend.

Novellus Theatre was nicely, if not totally, filled to capacity to witness the 2012 65 minute work for ten dancers  called Three Theories.  Labels indicated there were actually four divergent compositions in sections called Bang, Relativity, Quantum and  String.  Rhys Chatham’s  was an excerpt from Two Gongs;  Raga Jog; Vilambit Ektaa! employing violin and tabla [Sangeeta Shankar and Ramkumar Misra] ; an original score by Chatham and John Luther Adams’ Dark Waves.

Karole Armitage has attracted marvelous dancers, five having danced for her four or more seasons, one of them six, another nine, four Asian, one African-American. For an ensemble probably not permitting full seasons of performance or pay, it speaks well of this Balanchine-Cunningham exposed former dancer turned choreographer. Part of the longevity must be due to Armitage’s clear connection with these two major figures in twentieth century choreography. Each dancer was impressive if not mentioned specifically.

Armitage made no attempt to deny her  influences nor the use of classically trained dancers. Any one of them could dance up a storm in a professional ballet ensemble. It was frankly refreshing to see Armitage embrace classical technique with a highly sensual, athletic use of her dancers’ capabilities.  Six o’clock a la seconde abounded, frequently supported by an arm around the neck; splits supported, up ended, or stretched across the floor saw usage.  Random entries and exits recalled Cunningham; vertical lines upstage to down evoked Balanchine’s vocabulary.

Initially Armitage clothed the ten in the briefest of tights and bikinis, revealing well muscled bodies; beautiful pectorals in the men and lean torsos and legs in the women this side of  rib and spine showing, usual with dancers in ballet companies.

The Novellus stage was bare with the wings exposed; a light row at the back was low to the floor, sometimes raised; blackouts employed intermittently.  The body stretches at the shoulders were full, complete, torsos capable of undulation and reaches in all directions.  This was particularly true in the second section where the complex patterns of violin, tabla in a  raga
structure invited continuous filigrees of gesture extending the side or forward reach of the torso. This conveyed intimacy, improvisation, joy in the sensual thrust and coil of body and contact, reinforced by stroking of back, arm, thigh by Bennyroyce  Royon partnering Megumi Eda.

In the third section Marlon Taylor-Wiles and Masayo Yamaguchi paired off, Mutt and Jeff style, their exchange augmented by Yamaguchi’s acquisition of pointe shoes, Taylor-Wiles’ tossing and catching Yamaguchi augmented occasionally with her  dainty, skittering bourrees,  an encounter one of athletic glee. The pointe shoe  convention was shared by the other women with  a gradual transition into short white body suits and trunks for the men.

Mercifully, Armitage knows when to stop full tilt, non-stop exposition. The audience responded warmly, a number standing to demonstrate their approval.  Having seen bare stages and choreography abstracting the sensual at Novellus and elsewhere, my vote for the most satisfying to date  is cast with Armitage Gone! Dance even though I’m not at all sure of what
that title means.

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