Taking flight

ODC/Dance leaps from the Mission to SoMa for its annual "Downtown" performances
Photo by RJ Muna

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Even for a company as committed to keeping on the move as ODC/Dance, debuting five world premieres in two programs is pushing the envelope of what is creatively possible — not only for in-house choreographers Brenda Way and KT Nelson, but also for the performers who have to learn the stuff.

ODC's dancers are up to the challenge. They are fast; they are athletic; and they luxuriate in their own physicality. They are gorgeous as individuals and as an ensemble. Daniel Santos speeds up a turn as if he's being unspooled. In one second, Anne Zivolich curls up on the floor, seemingly to take a nap; in the next, she pounces into a partner's arms. Private Freeman's barrel turn impresses, but he's riveting even doing something as simple as leading a snaking line of walkers. ODC's resident poet, however, is Andrea Flores, who has a lush physicality and impeccable lines. There's a hidden reserve about her that keeps you wondering whether she knows something you don't.

The March 13 gala opening of "ODC/Dance Downtown" presented two of Way's three premieres: Origins of Flight and Unintended Consequences: A Meditation, as well as Nelson's 1998 Walk before Talk. Since Nelson has become a major company voice, it would have been good to have one of her premieres included on opening night. "Downtown"'s other premieres include Nelson's A Walk in the Woods and Hunting and Gathering, and Way's Life Is a House.

Set to an oddly collaged selection of music by baroque composers Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and Schmelzer's student Heinrich Biber, the high-energy Flight was an expansive, fairly inviting exploration of one of dance's fundamental units, the duet. It reveled in the richness of the body's expressive capability and, by implication, in the myriad ways we relate to each other. But Flight could have used some restraint. Some of the gestural decorations looked overdone, like too much lace on a frock coat.

Way started out with a basic man-woman duo (Flores and Santos) in side-by-side, front-facing unisons, adding decorative flourishes of pointing fingers and shaking shoulders. The dancing was often front-oriented with one couple downstage and three other pairs in the background. Despite Flight's cheerleader-ish optimism, the piece's quiet moments were its most telling. Dancers leaned against each other back-to-back, undertook odd little walks to a plucked-string sound, and best of all, a hand caressed a calf just because it was there.

Unintended Consequences: A Meditation was dedicated to Laurie Anderson and co-commissioned by the Equal Justice Society. Of the work, Way has said, "it shines a critical light on the current state of political affairs and our inadvertent complicity in them." But she is not given to rants. Her political message, if there is one, insinuated itself into our awareness the way Zivolich, with her spiky little skirt (designed by Way), disrupted order by seduction. Anderson's best-known piece, United States (1981), is tough competition for Way's intermittently captivating choreography. Consequences' most interesting part was the nonchalance with which dancers switched from the dancerly to the pedestrian. Men engaged a partner intimately and then just dropped them without missing a beat. Once the "O Superman" section started, the dance became ever more dreamlike. People froze, their eyes covered; they danced with phantom partners. No wonder you choked for a moment when Corey Brady, who initially had silently emerged from between two futuristic pillars of light (design by Alexander V. Nichols), in the end simply dropped.

Walk before Talk is one of Nelson's Diablo Ballet commissions.

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