MOTIONLAB/Hermesdorf & Mathias- review

MOTIONLAB/Hermesdorf & Mathias- review

Kathleen Hermesdorf, a dancer, and Albert Mathias, a musician, have been collaborating since 1998. His techno-collision sound scores seem to pick up and egg on the edgy/athletic, uber-Mission style promulgated by Hermsedorf, and copied by many. Theirs is a pick-up life, teaching and touring, spending a lot of time on the road, but returning to San Francisco every year for a season at ODC Theater. The group of dancers asked to join-in for the latest production represents who’s happening on the local scene. What they create is well-crafted dance without a strong overall vision. Hermesdorf is a phrase-maker so used to the small theatres and alternative spaces for perforrmance, that there is no particular emphasis on the vast possibilities of space. Mathias’ music and Hermesdorf’s dancing are both strongly original, what seems to be missing this year is an original conception. “Fate + Longing” is an excuse for strong dancing, but not a theatrical catharsis. “I am a fractal,” doesn’t cut it.

Karole Artmitage

Armitage Gone! Dance

“Ligetti Essays” (2007)

“Time is the Echo of an Axe within a Wood” (2004/06)

San Francisco Performances

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Armitage, once the post-modern bad-girl of 1980’s dance, was known for scenic collaborations with iconic painter and ex-huz David Salle. Now, she has made an American come-back, re-emerging on US stages after spending a decade or so in Europe. What once involved the use of toe shoes as weapons, has mellowed or evolved into a surprisingly well-mannered, intiricately designed-technique—all subtlety and decorum. Scenery-wise, a Noguchi or Beckett-style tree on stage fills the space with a nostalgic flavor that seems to meet this nostalgic movement style–sans flash, although David Salle did, in fact, design the fabulously fluid plastic ribbon curtain that created a dynamic playing space in the second piece on the program, “Time is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood.” Europe seems to have seasoned this middle-aged risk –taker. Who needs to import foreigners when we’ve got an ex-expatriate creating strange little miracles of pristine composition, beautifully danced by her company?

ODC Theater has begun to produce its own import series without turning its back on the local companies that built its following and still make it such an important local institution. There are plans in the works to teardown the verable studio/theatre and build a larger, state-of-the-art facility—bravo to ODC, the best fund-raisers in town. Donna Uchizono Company from New York represents the niche ODC is filling—and San Francisco can benefit artistically from having this opportunity to welcome smaller, more experimental groups like this, without the necessity to run multi-million-dollar debts at Yerba Buena, the big box downtown.

“Thin Air” featured Julie Alexander, Hristoula Harakas and Antonio Ramos, all collaborators with Uchizono, in addition to the work of video artist, Michael Casselli, and composer Fred Frith. This is an organically constructed piece where dancers begin seated atop ladders shaking their heads, and only move towards actual dancing in a gradual way. Arm gestures, butt shimmies, the manipulation of a stage-wide piece of plastic on which the dancers move—this is the world she creates—where deadpan humor and non-virtuosic movement combine with a texture of electronic pulse and trance-like use of video imagery. Uchizono has a masterly control of theatrical elements and shows that the influence of her postmodern predecessors still lives—no need to bow down to Mark Morris. When the dancing does arrive it takes your breath away.

How reassuring to read in the program notes that she will be choreographing for Baryshnikov and his group.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

October 18-21, 2007

What a revelation to see the new generation of Bill T. Jones dancers in close proximity. “Chapel/Chapter”, presented in the non-procenium-space at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (the Forum) featured a red-curtained room with a central, key-hole-shaped playing space, and audience and dancers seated around. No one was more than 20-feet from the action—and there was a lot of action.

Over the last two decades, Jones has been artistically all over the place, but one thing he has never given up on is the idea of having a big company. There is something to be said for the power of numbers, especially the way Jones uses them. His dancers are individuals, diverse ethnically, and super-charged with the ideas, not just the movement, being presented. They tend to be young and technically accomplished, these days, but the emotional involvement and idealism is clear, even catchy, and being freed from the distance forced by the usual theatrical setting offers an audience the opportunity to sit right in this soup of powerful feeling and physicality.

Jones is playing with the idea of secular vs. sacred here. What could have been tedious, in this era of Islam and the end of the American Fundamentalist hold on government, gets shaken and stirred by Jones, moved into the realm of personal narrative, and, surprisingly, presented through the lens of abhorrent criminal acts. There are not symbols in this church, and the only sound of bells comes at you magnified like pounding headache, blended in the masterful score including live vocals by Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Three narrative strands intertwine throughout, and dancers play the parts of a family (including dog) a criminal, an abused girl, and two boyhood friends whose homoerotic camping story turns tragic. Throughout, the humanity of victim as well as the mundane testimony of the perpetrator, gives the proceedings texture and interest—it is never a one-sided story.

It is the movement, however, which takes the piece into the highest realm of artistic achievement. Jones uses the long, narrow space with the eye of a draftsman, and presents movement that is not just breathtakingly virtuosic, but also intimate, spatial, narrative and fresh-looking. In particular, the use of the floor brings back modern dance from the grave, and the performances by Erick Montes (the dog), Charles Scott (Mr. Soto) Leah Cox (Mrs. Soto) and Maija Garcia (Little Girl) were nothing short of spectacular.

This is the best work Jones has done in years.

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."