New wave?
Summerfest mixes the hot and the cold.

By Rita Felciano

SUMMERFEST/DANCE'S fourth program for its West Wave Dance Festival 2003– two more are scheduled for this coming weekend – raises questions about how to structure a local festival. Should programming balance the new with the known, or should it squarely focus on the latest creations? For those who prefer the latter, the upcoming performances are the way to go; three of last weekend's six pieces had been presented before.

Of the three world premieres, the most successful was Kimiko Guthrie's There, a quartet for Eric Kupers, Frank Shawl, Erin Gottwald, and Debby Kajiyama. A reiterative text, written and read live by Guthrie, punctuated the simple but effective choreography. There examined direction both metaphorically – as in a life's journey – and as the space the dancer moves in and shapes. Kupers and Shawl, with more than a 30-year age difference between them, looked to each other for support and direction as they examined past, present, and future.

With its short phrases, quick shifts, and shared partnering, There exuded a sense of urgency from the moment the two men put on their shoes for their respective journeys. The piece's focus shifted back and forth so smoothly that the difference between the two journeys became increasingly blurred. Both men were involved in "a race against time" as they reassessed where they were going. To keep these vacillations from becoming self-indulgent, Guthrie's choreography added two interfering female shadows, dressed in black lace; they functioned more like mischievous sprites than like dooming figures of fate. There took a fresh look at a basic human concern; it was well thought out and excellently presented.

When Dana Lawton's elbow slipped off the ladder on which she was dreamily perched, it looked like Rebecca Salzer's An Evening and a Balcony was going to be a satire of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. It was not. Instead Salzer, with ODC/San Francisco's Brian Fisher as Romeo, attempted a contemporary version of this all-time classic. It didn't quite work. Choreographing to Prokofiev's surging score demands fluidity and phrasing on a scale to which Salzer wouldn't commit. Her choreographic design at times seemed to rely on the music only to ignore it at other times without setting up a different voice. The modern dance movement language was also so generalized that it did not allow her dancers to do much besides play their roles.

Michael Lowe's Upstreams and Family opened the evening on a sour note. Lowe is a promising young choreographer, but these works were pale to the point of looking amateurish. Megan Nicely's paper-thin Reveal, a duet for herself and Audrey Cooper to music by Philip Glass and Niki Reiser, relied heavily on visual imagery. It placed two dancers in an environment of hanging panels with writing and sepia-colored photographs on them. In this private, small-scale piece, the two dancers barely engaged each other, though they echoed each other's quotidian movements. At first they were dressed in shapeless black coats over long white gowns; once those were discarded, they wore earthen-color pants and tops. The process of shedding and examining layers didn't reveal much.

Jenny McAllister's clever quartet After Ever Happily, shown earlier this year, set a cartoon murder mystery to an unlikely but well-done mix of music by the Tin Hat Trio, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Tom Waits. Few choreographers have a flair for comedy, but McAllister – one half of Huckabay McAllister Dance – is one of them. With tall, willowy Ann Berman stealing the show every time she threw an arm or grabbed a partner (the other performers were Rebecca Graham, Phil Halbert, and Sean McMahon), this piece was a merry-go-round of switched partners, stolen identities, and drunken courting rituals. It opened with Berman, a kind of dominatrix, flailing over a prone body yet flashing a toothy smile every time a camera flash went off. She also surreptitiously outlined the body's contours with chalk; this map came in handy when her miraculously resurrected partner needed to be put in his place again. Like revolving stage machinery, After turned its creaking gears so that in the end the piece returned to its beginning – except for a complete role reversal by its four protagonists.

'Summerfest/dance presents West Wave Dance Festival 2003'
runs through Fri/27. Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m., Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, Marina at Laguna, S.F. $15-$20. (415) 345-7575. For more information see Stage listings or go to www.summerfestdance.org.


July 23, 2003