Take two
Summerfest paired choreographers and composers with good results.

By Rita Felciano

THE CHOREOGRAPHERS AND Composers Consortium (July 11, McKenna Theater) is the best idea Summerfest/dance West Wave Dance Festival has come up with in 12 years of showcasing local dance. Last February, 20 choreographers and 13 composers came to a Summerfest jam session to network and share ideas. Four pairs, Cathleen McCarthy and Daniel Feinsmith, Amy Seiwert and Jonathan Norton, Janice Garrett and Matthew Pierce (the only nonlocal composer), and Amy Helmstetter and Nurit Jugend, ended up collaborating, and with one exception, these new works are as good as any seen on local stages in a long time – and the live music was such a great bonus.

Garrett's Seeds, as explained in a program note, is a group of nine studies that can be arranged in any order. Using three of her own dancers – Kara Davis, Bliss Dowman, and Heather Tietsort-Lasky – and San Francisco Ballet principal Benjamin Pierce, Garrett's sparkling miniatures took full of advantage of the dancers' disparate sizes and training. Pierce, brother of composer Matthew and a tall, long-limbed dancer, towered over the three darting women.

Each segment revolved around distinct movements that together offered a witty portrait of what happens when modern dance meets ballet. Garrett designed Seeds with the women dancing as a loose collective that encounters a ballet-trained male who enters their world and becomes one of their own. One section opened with Pierce standing behind the women. At first he mirrored their gestures, with deeply scooping arms; finally he joined them. In another, with the marimba and violin in the pit creating soft wind sounds, Pierce appeared as if he were being blown off the stage. Once, in a silent film-inspired comedy routine, he raced around to keep his swaying would-be partners from falling. He ultimately set them up belly-to-back and lowered them to the ground in a group before gravity could do the job. In a fast percussive section, the women turned into furies, chasing him until he collapsed. Fascinated with his body, they endlessly manipulated his limbs and hoisted him aloft. Throughout these finely designed vignettes, composer Pierce's conservative but subtly orchestrated score proved to be an exemplary partner.

Similarly, but less surprisingly since she's a ballet choreographer, Seiwert's Mind Games also set a soloist – in this case two different ones – against a trio of women dancers (Sarah Barber Wilson, Jen Gorman, and Lynlee Towne). The choreographer, still a member of Smuin Ballet/S.F., not only used pointe work assertively and effectively, but also built Mind Games with an unstoppable trajectory. A central standoff might have come out of a western. There was tension in the way the three women did their warm-ups – stretching, bending, hopping. When James Strong, a rather awkward partner throughout, entered, the piece took off. Paired in complementary couples, the dancers moved straight toward the audience before becoming a quartet, with each member going in a different direction. Then they waited. In silence. When Maurya Kerr swaggered in on pointe, arms raised like flaming wings, the dancers simply melted away. Kerr's Amazone, knocking her pointe shoe impatiently to the ground, allowed a cowering and scooting-around Strong to finally partner with her. When he folded her over his shoulder, she stretched up to the sky; when he draped her over his arms, she tried to escape. The duet seemed like an ordeal to be endured; the music's repeating motif suggested a time warp. At the end she collapsed to the floor, spent.

Newcomer Helmstetter's Spiraling Ahead, set to a sparse but colorful score by Jugend, intrigued in the way it overlapped patterns, set up canons, and reconfigured spaces. Dressing them in candy-colored jeans with contrasting patches, Helmstetter gave her ensemble (Holly Fernandez, Gina Lamont, Amanda McGovern, Charlene Hannibal, and Elizebeth Randell) pedestrian movements: walking, circling, hopping, swinging arms, hunching shoulders. They worked in isolation, picking up cues from each other, momentarily interacting, but like urban dwellers pursued their own paths. Spiraling, though overly loose and with an ending that seemed tacked-on, would look better on a stage smaller than the McKenna's.

McCarthy's rambling Leviticus, with Feinsmith's oddly matched score, was not ready for the stage. Though announced as a work in progress, this "book of laws" needed more than tightening; it needed rewriting. With eight inadequately trained dancers and Michael Kruzich acting as High Priest, Leviticus purported to trace a tribe's progress toward enlightenment. According to the lengthy program notes, it deals with the "ascendance of consciousness" and a ritual sacrifice that "completely destroys cosmic separation." Ouch.

'Summerfest/dance West Wave Dance Festival' runs through July 27, ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F. $18-$20. (415) 345-7575, www.summerfestdance.org.

July 16, 2003