How does one mark a particular passage of time, with some anniversaries being more significant than others? For Margaret Jenkins this meant looking back over 75 productions, early studio performances, site-specific works, and international collaborations. At age 71, she has seen many company members and collaborators come and go, along with her own youth and the agility to dance. To gracefully, and rightfully, mark her hugely successful 40th anniversary of creativity, this hometown performance began with a prologue to “Time Bones” in the Forum at Yerba Buena Center.
With the audience both sitting and standing around a shallow pool-like floor installation with a cellist playing at one end and Jenkins sitting at the other, the solid Margaret Jenkins Dance Company dancers narrowly danced within the limited floor space. Inside this intimate setting Jenkins reads through a list of productions, including the names of every dancer and collaborator who performed those pieces. The dead–“Those We Have Lost”–were also honored, each name like a chalk mark in a rainstorm. She then performed a two-minute solo from a repertory piece called, “Breathe Normally” that she did seated on her site-specific bench, with her glorious age-specific body. The prologue in this particular setting was heartfelt and personal, and offered something essential that was mostly lost once on the formal, Lam Research Theater’s stage next door.
There, the momentum and fanfare for “Time Bones” continued, with a few dancers standing on one of the six pedestal-like platforms in the orchestra pit. They gazed motionless at manipulated footage of archival work projected onto a cubicle wooden screen. This striking visual design was the work of Alexander V. Nichol’s and allowed a mysterious glimpse of the rest of the company behind it. A second grid screen behind them veiled the upstage Paul Dresher Ensemble. Both the set and Dresher’s score–which comes from fragments of material he created for previous Jenkins’ commissions—were textural and suggestive of the overlay of time. To this rich foundation dancers pulled apart and reconfigured the wooden screen, opening to a large stage area that ultimately consumed the small six-member company.
Scraps of prerecorded text, also from previous works, offer yet another dimension of transcendent metaphor to seemingly one dimensional and predicable choreography. “Do the pigeons in the bell tower mark time?” floated the text, as sounds of birds cooing and wings fluttering asked more from the reassembled choreography. Yes, the choreography is a retrospective of highlights from previous pieces. Sadly, the choreography neither held up to the freshness of the stage design and rich multilayered score, nor to the enormity of the stage. Instead it worked best when dancers were limited to the small platforms downstage creating a tension between foreground and background, present and past.
By comparison, “The Gate of Winds” collaboration with the Kolben Dance Company of Jerusalem–doubled the size of the company and was a completely striped down piece free of an artistic set design. “The Gate of Winds” is a showcase of pure movement and choreography that is engaging even with its pedestrian walking and nonstop movement. Effortlessly the choreography’s abstract narrative gives the impression of the city of Jerusalem’s complexities, the clashing and interaction of cultures, religions, and narrow proximity to one another. Like two separate cultures, the two companies danced around each other but only interacted with their own members. The organic contrast between these two troupes was highly distinguishable. While MJDC is muscularly talented with multi disciplinary training, the KDC is pure unbridled raw energy that borders on excessive fluidity and the frivolity of youth. Dancers leap like frogs over and over into the air or fall instantly corpse-like to the earth. Complex configuration and pas de trois groupings grounded TGW and nicely showcased the talents of MJDC dancers, Ryan T. Smith, Chinchin Hsu, and Brendan Barthel.
The score was made from a compilation of different types of music ranging from hauntingly empty piano cords to complex Middle Eastern drum rhythms. It was tied together by the elemental sounds of wind and waves, and made in collaboration between sound designer, The Norman Conquest and sound curator, Amir Kolben.