My review of ODC’s opening gala hit the Chronicle today:

“ODC/Dance Artistic Director Brenda Way may run her company with a socialist, counterculture spirit, but she knows a marketing coup when she sees one. For the troupe’s 35th anniversary season, which opened with a gala Thursday, she invited former San Francisco Ballet principal Joanna Berman to dance the duet in Way’s “Part of a Longer Story.” It’s a tribute to both Berman and the company’s artistry that her performance was exquisite without ever overwhelming the considerable ensemble charisma now on display at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater.

Worthier star vehicles are difficult to think of; Way’s 1993 duet (the opening section was added in 1995, the closing in 2002, hence the title) ranks among her finest works. Set to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A, it uses whimsical gesture like throwaway seasoning — a dash of wiggling hand here, a pinch of bobbling head there — yet it’s the accrued movement motifs that steadily tug at the heart.

The tentative, testing dance of intimacy Berman shares with Brandon “Private” Freeman is built around a turn in attitude — one leg bent behind, arms reaching straight as an arrow until one hand grabs the foot. When, after Berman has begun to succumb to his pull, she grabs that back foot and then releases it as though she’s touched a hot stove, it communicates more clearly than the most passionate embrace. That’s the suggestive power of masterful formalism.

Berman and Freeman gave the duet the dramatic shadings of love in all its complexities. Both have technique to spare, but the virtuosity here was in the subtle emotional shifts, she at first fighting her attraction but ultimately panting with longing; he tender and then, in the way even caring men can be when they’ve won what they wanted, retracting. And it was all in the dancing, not the acting. When Freeman pulled Berman into a balletic supported retir? on a surge in the music, the clarity of shape and intention was captivating.

With a duet of such intensity, perhaps it’s natural that the first and second movements would feel like incidental bookends, even with a spirited solo performance by retiring 15-year veteran Brian Fisher. In truth, the choreography does not rise to the standard of Way’s own pas de deux sets. And in fact, the rest of the program will probably be remembered more for the dancing than the dances. ”

Click here for the full review.

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