Dance Continuum SF's take on romance is smart, funny and poignant
DANCE Dance Continuum SF's artistic directors José Ivan Ibarra and Peter Litwinowicz danced and studied with Bay Area José Limón disciples Gary Masters and Cheryl Chaddick. Though they are their own men, the lineage shows. Limón's weighted yet luminously airy style and his taking on of momentous topics without a whiff of irony is not much in fashion these days. So the old man would have approved when the four year-old company called its June 11-13 concert "Life, Love and Rituals."
To a contemporary viewer, the ability to translate emotionally resonant material into movement language that communicates clearly and simply is refreshing. No wonder Continuum has attracted a group of beautifully trained dancers who seem to thrive in this capacious environment. They are, in addition to the choreographers: Blane Ashby, Kyla Farrow, Heather Glabe, Lindsay Shapiro, and Jennifer Wright.
The ambitious program featured five world premieres. Of the two choreographers, Ibarra has the more theatrical bent. Sometimes his movement language can look a little facile, but it doesn't unduly undermine his expressive intent; Ibarra creates solid dramatic structures. With the dark Picasso Blue, he turns commedia dell'arte inside out. Starting out lightheartedly, he tightens the screws until Harlequin's (Ibarra) heart is broken; Columbina has gone mad; and Pantalone (Ashby), the old fool, turns out to be a devilish manipulator. The puppetry's mechanism is awkwardly conceived and the double duets looked unbalanced. Still, despite the oddly chosen Brahms quartet, my heart wound up in my throat.
In the trio Love Shirley, Ibarra's lover/pimp character gets his comeuppance from Farrow and Glabe's entertainers/hookers. The piece's ambivalent relationships strike a note of disease. But even as you root for the women, it's disconcerting to watch how Ibarra evokes the insidiousness of shifts in power. It makes you sit up.
Perhaps the lyrics in the finely crafted Café o Canela anchor its three sections too literally, but the piece plausibly portrays a disintegrating relationship. Listening to Ashby's icy self involvement, after having watched Farrow's plangently but strongly danced solo about marital loneliness, is chilling. The two call up the memory of a perfect love (Ibarra and Glabe in Mexican costumes) observed on their honeymoon. The lovey-dovey duet looks charming, but also like a saccharine projection of "native" life. In the climactic tango-inspired duet, Ashby and Farrow elastically drift and float until they finally cut the thread.
Litwinowicz' two premieres, Rituals and Lonely, but not always alone make their own statements about what it means to be alive. In the simple but pristine Rituals (Farrow, Glabe, and Shapiro) different-colored scarves suggest the time passing of time and changed circumstances. Their fluid usage also evoke continuity within familiarity. Making excellent use of stage space, the dancers' dissolving and reconfigured unisons, gentle canons and the periodic solos flow on top of a bed of constancy of, at the very least, purpose.
Lonely is one of the best dance/video works I can remember. The two media interlock tightly yet with flourish. Dancers on stage lusciously express — and sometimes shape — the thoughts and dreams of their video counterparts until Glabe reverses direction. Individually, in its distinct episodes and as an accumulation, Lonely convinces because it is smart, funny, and poignant.