Cowell Theatre Reopens with Mark Foehringer Dance Project

17 Sep

September 13 Cowell Theatre reopened after a face lift for Fort Mason’s Herbst
Pavillion. Walking in the usual door to Cowell, unalloyed space opens up before the eyes and a new smooth grey surface greets the visitor between that entry and a white wall which protrudes out into the Pavillion. It looks as though temporary barriers will be erected for events, but on September 13 there was nobody else but us dance devotees. Absent were the wonderful posters of past Cowell events which adorned the now demolished wall between the Pavillion floor and the Cowell entrance. Nothing has changed that long walk to the Theatre’s entrance.

Dances Sacred and Profane spells Debussy, that most evanescent of composers and Foehringer decided to collaborate with visual artists Camille Utterback and Phill Tew to create a work for five dancers, three men and two women. Debussy was augmented one piece each by Gabriel Faure and Maurice Ravel. It was a brave try, provocative at moments, visually arresting in graphics of dots, bursts of green sticks and vague, dissolving human figures, but alas, not engaging the attention all the time. Brett Bowman and Dana Hemenway contributed videographics; there was questionable sound augmentation by Dr. Michael St. Clair. Additional credits in the program listed Frederic G. Boulay for production design and direction, costume design by Connie Strayer and Jamielyn Duggan and dance room Spectroscopy by Dr. David Glowacki. All seemed to line up on stage at the end, and I am certain there was exhilaration felt by every last one.

The women were dressed in flowing nude-hued draperies, ditto the color of the men’s tights and at one point in similarly colored loose trousers. At no time was Michael Oesch’s lighting full force, remaining shadowy throughout, partly to display the visual designs on the three screens behind the dancers, partly enforcing not only the dreamy nature of Debussy’s compositions but supplying a tenderness to the two striking male pas de deux as well as almost the genderless ensembles.

A number of years ago when Dance Spectrum was one of San Francisco’s alternate ballet ensembles, Carlos Carvajal choreographed Shapes of Evening to the same music, using the circle, and flowering-like imagery to create a balletic interpretation, moving around, from and returning to a circle of four or five couples. Lighting then also was subdued, though slightly golden, the dancers being clearly recognizable. I found myself contrasting that balletic distinctness of movement to the less fullness of gesture, the continual dissolving of an ensemble or pas de deux on Cowell’s stage.

Earlier Foehringer had choreographed a Debussy-based pas de deux for Heather Cooper and Brian Fisher danced at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music which I found most effective in an exposed environment, perhaps the genesis of this recent work.

The dancers were Raphael Boumaila, Sonja Dale, Jamielyn Duggan, Brian Fisher, Cooper Neely.

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