Week one dance at the San Francisco International Arts Festival
At 90 minutes, the two-act Bodies could be tightened, though I wouldn't give up a second of the opening, which imagines the natural world — including a splendid tree — emerging from an inchoate mass. Moving from hunter-gatherers to agricultural life was economically and clearly presented, though the water choreography for the women felt vapid. But Raul Trujillo's "Cage Dance," which used an elaborate double contraption (one part of it a hoop skirt) to indicate various forms of imprisonment, missed its target. The dancers physically struggled to get in and out of it — surely not the intent.
The second act included a haunting Ghost Dance. It was danced with traditional bobbing steps against a wailing wall (video by Alejandro Quintana) that documented the destruction humankind manages to inflict on itself. Perhaps Tangen's idea that a deracinated people experiencing degradation can still hear Earth's heartbeat in contemporary urban rhythms is overly romantic. But it's a lovely idea to consider and made for some impressive hip-hop dancing.
Putting Hope Mohr and Charles Slender on the same double bill paired two artists who are relatively new in town — Mohr since 2007, Slender since 2008. They have nothing in common except that they clothe their formal concerns with clear expressive intent. For Mohr, this has sometimes meant working in tandem with community and professional dancers. Slender has elaborate theatrical trappings that he seems to be constantly reworking at his disposal.
Mohr's world premiere, the deep-ringing Plainsong, was a fragile mediation for a sturdy performer, the renowned Aleta Hayes. The subject is the mythic Penelope, waiting for Odysseus to return. Katrina Rodabaugh wove-unraveled Plainsong's exquisite backdrop. Every meaning, every gesture of this 20-minute solo was suspended in ambiguity. In Hayes' touch, the pile of wool became bloody entrails. She enclosed her space with a fragile thread — to imprison or to protect herself? With vigorously shoveling hands, she could have been unearthing or burying something. Her deep, almost masculine voice surged from inside her guts. The full-of-potential Plainsong is one of Hope's finest works yet; she may want to consider refining it in the future.
Slender's mildly witty Consumption Series is a chameleon that adapts to wherever his intrepid FACT/SF troupers take it. It's a piece — this is the third time I've seen it — that looks at obsessions (food, sex, power) and envelops them with pseudo-baroque accoutrements and a slyly ballet-based vocabulary and its aberrations. The costumes and the ideas are beginning to look ragged; it's time to retire both.
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
Through June 5
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