My review of the Black Choreographers Festival opening in today’s SF Chronicle:

“For the past three years, it’s been good to have the Black Choreographers Festival on the scene, but it hasn’t been clear whom the festival’s performances are for. Was BCF, picking up where the defunct Black Choreographers Moving Toward the 21st Century left off, trying to stimulate another national dialogue on race in dance? Instilling local pride? Pitching itself to aspiring African American dancemakers or to a more general dance audience? If the latter, why were the performances so frustratingly uneven?

At Friday’s opening of the festival’s fourth annual installment, BCF’s purpose seemed to crystallize in a word co-founders Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes use a lot: community. And BCF has built a wide and wonderful community indeed. Opening at Oakland’s Laney College Theater, the festival moves on to second and third weekends at San Francisco’s Project Artaud Theater and Dance Mission Theater, which – along with ODC Theater – are all sponsors. There’ll be symposia, family matinees, an art exhibition and a master class with sensational tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, out from New York.

All of this is tremendous for the community. For the average dancegoer at one of BCF’s concerts, though, it means a huge range in quality. The bad news is you’ll have to sit through sub-par work to get to the good stuff, like Smith’s appearance Friday and Saturday, when the festival moves to Project Artaud (look forward, too, to the roof-raising West African stampings of Oakland troupe Diamano Coura). The upside is the chance to find standout choreographers whose work should be seen far more often. And at Friday’s opening, the clear winner in that category was Reginald Ray-Savage (commonly known as Reginald Savage).

Savage has led his Savage Jazz Dance Company in Oakland since 1992, but it’s never broken out much beyond a cash-strapped local season. That should change. Not only is Savage a master teacher, producing taut, controlled dancers as well trained as any on the Bay Area modern dance scene. But he’s also a fine choreographer.

He proved this in two pieces that broke from his usual mission statement – “Not jazz dance. Dances to jazz music.” – to take on intense classical scores. This being Savage, though, the look was sexy, from the sculpted sultry postures and teasing deep plies to the women’s V-neck leotards.”

Click here for the full review.

1 Comment

  • criticise_me Posted February 16, 2008 9:53 pm

    I agree with Rachel Howard. Yes, Geginald Savage was the king of the show. And yes, Robert Moses was undeservedly the “biggest name of the show.” His piece advertized itself as a dance piece, instead it is an out-dated exercise in ’70 post-modernism; his latest show is only an elaboration of this false-advertising and post-modernist backwash. First of all, the dancers in the poster (jacinta vlach and dwayne worthington) are not in this show, nor was that lovely lift. Indeed, despite the poster, there were very few lifts at all, and to exacerbate this false advertising, there was hardly any traveling in this show. It ends up feeling very small. A lot of short random gestures, as usual for Robert’s style, but without a balance of broad sweeping gestures, and perhaps worst of all, very little consonance, very little flow, which is to say, too many transitions…
    . I would say that about 40 percent of the movement is spent on superfluous transitions, as if Moses is attempting to master “in-economy” of movement, or (as Laban defined it) the very opposite of “grace.” One movement does not seem in any way related to the next. The effect is unsettling in the viewer, analogous to dissonant chords in music. Consequently the dancers could hardly express any but the most spastic emotions. There was a very long duet in the middle that slowed down the pace considerably, but because it lacked any altheticism or virtuosity of technique it also slowed down the brains of the audience. Could hardly stay awake.
    . The shapes were uninspired throughout the show (how many times must we see a parallel attitude derriere? and all those undulating derriere?), but here in this dreadfully slow duet we had all the time in the world to convince ourselves that Robert Moses has run out of ideas, or is perhaps too busy to think about creating something that might interest us. I began to yearn for ballet (and I am not a balletomane by any standard!) if only because the cliche shapes even of classic ballet far surpass the boring ugliness of this random pedestrian blah blah choreography.
    . Maybe Robert Moses is trying out the classic Cunningham approach: just random shapes picked out of a hat. But then, why is the choreographer necessary, if he’s not using his head to create something meaningful, a dance that moves gracefully from one well-thought out interesting shape to the next? I understand using dissonance in choreography, but keep it minimal! Why so many transitions? Is this some form of showing off, the dancer’s equivalent of a meaningless tongue twister?
    . After a while, you see that Robert Moses is just ignoring the music, as if he just thought up a movement combination and dropped it on top of the music, repeating it over and over again with slight variations until the music is over. So monotonous! He needs to pay more attention to the music: mostly classical, it has many nuances that he just ignores; sure, it’s okay to deviate once in a while from music, but keep it minimal!
    . Robert’s getting distracted or lazy or both, and by the audience reaction, as well as the frowning faces of the dancers for their bow, I think we all agree. For shame, Robert Moses! What a waste of my time. And what a waste of his beautiful dancers. My advice: compare the choreography of Jiri Kylian, Paul Taylor, Amy Seiwert… economy of movement, effortless inconspicuous transistions, a lovely consonant yet always interesting rhythmic flow of movement.
    . Even Bill T. Jones, a self-described “dissonant” choreographer, does not just fill his choreography with transitions; he uses them purposely, specifically where he needs to punctuate his more streamlined phrasing, allowing him to choreograph distinct, fascinating rhythms, as in the speech of an eloquent public speaker like Martin Luther King Jr., or the prose of literary geniuses like Shakespeare and Emerson. The effect of ignoring the power of phrasing in dance is monotony, a dance of randomness and transition, isolated vocabulary, serendipitously beautiful at best, boringly inarticulate and irresponsibly lazy at worst.

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