West Wave Dance Festival Program #3
Cowell Theater, San Francisco
July 29, 2004

One of the aural charms of the bayside Cowell Theater are the crying seagulls which can often be heard between, and sometimes during, performances. The plaintive sound effects were fitting Thursday night as the West Wave Festival shifted into an evening of somber, full-ensemble works.

The standout pieces were by Janice Garrett and one of her dancers, Heidi Schweiker. As befits a former Stanford math major, Garrett titled her new foursome ?Quaternion? after a mathematical concept that, I must admit, flies over my head. More readily accessible was the dark, secretive mood of the dance, set to Peter Sculthorpe?s skin-crawling, digeridoo-enhanced quartet. Dressed in James Meyer?s purple velvet tunics, Heather Tietsort-Lasky led a lunging Nol Simonse across the stage with a wavering hand like a sorceress casting a spell. Schweiker and Julian De Leon rushed in to strike a despairing frieze. A partner?s limbs exerted a kind of force field, and relationships mutated in clearly dangerous ways, the men passing through with their legs raised in front attitude, their arms pulling back an invisible arrow in the bow, reluctant hunters.

A longtime globetrotter, Garrett launched her San Francisco-based Janice Garrett + Dancers in 2002 to high expectations, which last March?s latest outing frankly flummoxed. Most of the works during that home season seemed to be missing their dramatic center. No such lack with ?Quaternion,? which needs only stronger lighting to become a signature work. Tietsort-Lasky, in full attack mode, was ravishing.

Schweiker, who also presented a work during last year?s festival, has clearly been influenced by Garrett in the best of ways. The sculpted arm and torso phrases, the widespread hands, the fiercely concentrated energy, the way the dancers wait for one another to finish their movement and then respond in kind as though in physical conversation: all these hallmarks were put to good use by Schweiker in a deftly structured quintet.

In ?Of Checkered Breezes? Schweiker eventually curled up on the floor as her dancers carried on an almost tribal dialogue. Paul Scriver?s music moved between bleak piano melodies and electro-trance drumming. The work never lost its layer of interpersonal drama, though Schweiker?a compelling dancer with a seriousness that belies her child-like face?perhaps inevitably stole the focus. She also created the mossy green costumes, which looked lush in Sara Linnie Slocum?s golden light.

The remainder of the program was rather a wash. ?Men?s Trio? was too small an excerpt by which to judge the Los Angeles choreographer Stephanie Gilliland, whose company TONGUE will dance the full-length work at ODC Theater next month. Three muscled men tramped across the stage like mystics in a desert, their ankles shackled inside jacket armholes; for the finale they donned the blazers on their torsos. Out of context and unsupported by interesting movement, it looked gimmicky and pretentious.

The kinetic images in Nancy Karp?s highly abstracted ?La Traversa? were too plain to hold the eye for their own sake. Six performers wore black mourning clothes in a dance inspired by the funeral processions of Italy. As an elderly dancer, Diane McKallip meshed nicely with the younger ensemble, but choreographic tension there was naught.

Jodi Lomask?s Capacitor unveiled an excerpt from ?Digging in the Dark.? Lomask is a young and ambitious dancer/aerialist/daredevil with a high-concept head for scientific conceits??Digging? takes its inspiration from geography. Her troupe of dancer/juggler/capoeira-practitioners has found a following at Burning Man and among the rave scene. I admire her initiative at finding new dance audiences, but she needs a more sophisticated vocabulary and use of space to make this work for the concert stage. Five performers were seen projected in heat-sensitive videography as they danced, their bodies burrowing like moles. Zachary Bernstein appeared bearing light and juggling fiery sticks; the full ensemble shook their tiki torches in a primitive dance. Entertaining enough, but a bit silly.

The West Wave Festival?s program three continues tonight at the Cowell. Program four?featuring work by Liss Fain, Amy Seiwert, Benjamin Levy, and others?runs Saturday and Sunday.

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