West Wave Dance Festival program #4
Cowell Theater, San Francisco
August 1, 2004

The shingles took me down a few more notches than expected. I had to skip Mary Armentrout?s show Friday–actually, I showed up at 7:45 only to learn the show started at 8:30 and lose heart. And I had to ask Janice Berman to take over my review of the West Wave Dance Festival?s program four for the Chronicle (many thanks for stepping in, Janice).

But yesterday, still nauseated but recovering, I could not resist taking a cab to the Cowell Theater for the final show. The big draws were premieres by Benjamin Levy and Amy Seiwert, two choreographers I?ve been watching out for over the last year and a half. They were worth it, and the program as a whole, with one baffling exception, was a delight. Since I was a bit drugged, what I offer here is snap commentary, not a review.

Levy is a young UC Berkeley grad with a remarkable gift for densely layered, kinesthetically detailed modern dance. His aesthetic tends to be futuristic and brutal yet beautiful: ?Holding Pattern,? like several other Levy works I?ve seen, was set to mechanistic music (in this case by Matthew Johnson) and costumed (in slashed space suits) by Wendy Sparks. Cambria Garell and Lauren Slater stood defiantly in the background as Christopher Hojin Lee caught his own arm as though to prevent himself from committing violence. One girl returned to push his chest, which rippled through him like an electrical current. Their entwined duet was full of inventive partnering?at one moment, she slid into a shoulder stand and he dove to balance upon her split leg. When the second girl entered their trio was a waterfall of cascading bodies. Finally the two girls left, chained to one another. ?Holding Pattern? was engrossing.

Seiwert is a fine technician with Smuin Ballets/SF who?s proven adept at twisty pas de deux and interesting ensemble spacing; she contorts the classical vocabulary with extreme flexibility, perhaps influenced by William Forsythe. For ?End Quote,? her infelicitously titled company im-ij-re looked like a ?Who?s Who? of former Oakland Ballet members. Set to Andrea Parker?s now lush, now stark music, the piece was anchored by male-female duets, with forays into all-female unison and a shadow-lit all-male section. The duets had lovely moments, especially some very pretty lifts, but some of the unison sections looked a bit like an avant-garde dance competition. Motifs were introduced?a woman hoisted by her partner walking upside-down, for instance?but they didn?t thread through with the force of logic. I don?t think it?s a breakthrough work for Seiwert, but it?s a fine addition to her continuing development and yet another demonstration of her considerable skills. And the dancers?especially Phaedra Jarrett, Lynlee Towne, Ethan White, Vanessa Thiessen, and Seiwert herself?looked chiseled and fabulous.

Among the other three works, Liss Fain?s ?The Unknown Land? proved a pleasant surprise. She chose a very difficult piece of music in Ligeti?s piano concerto and tackled it straight on, with the full ensemble of eight rushing in. I don?t think I?m alone in seeing Alonzo King?s influence in the hinged-from-the-hip positions, but the heady use of stage space was all her own. I especially liked the way the dancers lurked in the shadows during the menacing slow sections, creeping by like forest goblins. This piece is worth a second look.

?Three Quartets,? created and performed by Annie Rosenthal Parr, Ashley Holladay, Patricia Jiron, and Julie Kane, was solidly built upon eye-arresting gestures (like applause that deteriorated into hand-wiping), but presented a flat line of monotone intensity. Jiron?s zany energy spiced it up. And Ken James?s ?The Appetites of Gluttony? left me cold. Cynthia Adams, Ann Berman, and Julie Sheets (an intriguing enough trio) crossed the stage shouting ?duck!? and placing little ceramic duckies. By work?s end, little dancing had transpired and one duck had bit the dust.

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