ODC’s Dancing Downtown, 2013

17 Apr

How much of a miracle, modern day or historical, is comprised of small acts strung together over time and with diligent devotion.  And can devotion be considered such without diligence or can diligence be exercised without devotion?  The two D’s are like the snakes intertwined on the physician’s symbol, and I have long believed that healing is part of art’s task in life, with the practitioners the vessel through which healing and celebration occurs.  The Greeks understood this when they placed their amphitheaters in locations where healing centers were also situated, a fact thrilling the spirit walking in such a setting.

I think about such notions when I regard ODC and its three Graces/Fates who steered the Mission-based enterprise first into its own building, then built a multi – disciplinary dance center called The Dance Commons before launching into a major overhaul of the original building now into its third (?) season of presenting  divergent, interesting works, dance and otherwise.

Brenda Way, K.T. Nelson and Kimi Okada are the women behind this practical, impossibly wonderful reality, I believe unique in this country’s performing arts history.  Lilian Baylis and Ninette de Valois were responsible for a similar collaboration in an historic setting in London, and Marie Rambert pioneered in a separate location, but really, that’s stretching it some.  Beyond this, San Francisco’s trio has reflected and utilized our mores over the past three or four decades in ways amazing to this viewer whose mentality still trudges along dusty country roads.

ODC’s mid-March opening at Yerba Buena’s Lam Research Theater included a repeat of K.T. Nelson’s Transit: Next Stop with Max Chen’s clever bicycle bench, a moving panorama conveying urban life in its many manifestations with new costumes by Banana Republic.  I saw this Nelson work twice, although I wished my schedule permitted me to see another performance of Cut-Out Guy, the marvelous work earning Nelson, deservedly, one of two awards given by the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee for choreography during the 2011-2012 performing season.  For the opening this shared the bill with Brenda Way’s Lifesaving Maneuvers.  Forgive me if it takes at least two viewings in many instances  “to get” a work and so abstain from much comment.

This time, Banana Republic’s costumes exuded a current urban casual air where the incredible Anne  Zivolich danced an entry of indeterminate naivety and feisty independence.  In the background Corey Brady supped morning coffee and exchanged the morning newspaper with Natasha Adorlee Johnson.  Outside this cubicle Yayoi Kambara was locked in an embrace with either Jeremy Smith or Justin Andrews. Justin Liu and perhaps Dennis Adams were fated to meet and work out a mutual destiny of tenderness and conflict, not unlike the other characters sketched in the piece.  There needed to be another man because Vanessa Thiessen maneuvered over that movable cycle bench towards a man, the methodology, impulses and retreats a wonder to behold. The season before she and Daniel Santos were paired in this memorable sequence.

Triangulating Euclid was the result of a trilogy of collaborators: K. T. Nelson, Brenda Way and Kate Weare.  The work was dedicated to Karen Zukor who restored an early version of this book, the history of which was recited at the beginning of the piece. Zukor is a paper conservator working in the East Bay whom I once consulted and we talked about the stores the Zukors once operated in Central Valley towns in the mid-‘Thirties, notably for me in Fresno.  Zukor’s studio house an Art Deco remnant from that building which featured primarily clothing for Depression-era working women folk.

Matt Antaky built and lighted a spare, spacious set emphasizing white against which Way and Lisa Claybaugh’s costumes of black and white moved in harmony,their simple geometric designs housing dancers first moving singly before gradually becoming clusters, circles and diagonals.  I need to see the work again, but my memory says it is the least idiosyncratic choreography yet from these choreographers.  The divergence, perhaps, is due less to their fertile vocabularies  than to the subject matter celebrated. In Euclid there seems little space allowed for personal quirks and the movement spoke to that truth.

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