SF International Arts Festival — dance programs

Written by:
Joanna G. Harris
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Derevo: “Harlekin’’
Studio Rue Dance: “Clinic”
Dana Lawton Dances: “Who Is She?”

Dana Lawton of Dana Lawton Dances

The San Francisco International Arts Festival
“Harlekin” at the Cowell Theater
May 20, 2010

“Clinic” and “Who Is She?” at the Southside Theater
May 22, 2010

Derevo, a theater/dance offering from the SFIAF, has its origins in the USSR. Now the company, which consists of Anton Adasinsky (creator and director), Elena Yarovaya (performer) and Tanya Kabarova (performer) works in Dresden, Germany.

Program notes tell us that in a production entitled “Once,” “the clowning relates more to the traditional old-style Commedia dell’Arte for which Derevo has found its own interpretation.” The work presented
at SFIAF is entitled “Harlekin.” English-language theater history spells it Harlequin, who, according to scholars, “embodies love, wit, mobility, daring, all the shining qualities and all the shining vices.” Yet the character Adasinsky creates for this production is more a Pierrot, “pale, slender… the slave of old, the outcast, the passive and disinherited creature.” Perhaps Harlekin is this company’s name for what they create in “the old style.”

The performances consisted of a series of episodes in which the main character, played by Adasinsky but unnamed, seeks love, attention and admiration from a doll-like lady (a Pierrette or Columbine) whose response moves between negligible to indifferent. She is the forerunner of dancing dolls, from Coppelia to Petrushka. With several changes of costume during the performance, she (Yarovaya) is transformed into a provocative character who evokes various responses. Another unnamed figure (Kabarova) uses costume and persona transformations to move events along.

The show breaks down into non-related episodes that bring forth mimetic gesture from Adasinsky, all of which are designed to elicit pity and sometimes laughter. But the stagecraft problems for this performance did not sustain the scenes. Interactions were not developed: props are hastily acquired and discarded; lights go on and off unnecessarily. If this were street theater, as it origins were, we would see the actions in full light and rejoice in the transformations. There were however, moments of charm, as when Adasinsky takes off Yarovaya’s tall hat and she begins to wail, stopping when the hat is returned. But even that action went nowhere and we were off to another minimum event. Unfortunately, we are left wondering, for all their skill, what Derevo is doing.

It was a great pleasure to enter the former Magic Theater space, now renamed Southside Theater, to see two dance events which made good use of the narrow, deep stage and kept our focus and attention for two quite different dance events.

“Clinic,” a solo piece by choreographer/dancer Byb Chanel Bibene (who also did the set and costume), is a lesson in the tribulations of Africa. Posters pulled from the flies (the area above the stage) proclaim the evils of colonization, poverty, hunger, sickness. When Bibene enters, he is dressed in a white suit: he carries, opens, then flings to the floor a briefcase full of newspapers. He steps and slides on the papers. He asks, “What, who am I? I don’t know” in three languages. Eventually, he strips to basic white dance pants and his mobile expressive body depicts the pain he knows as a citizen of the Republic of Congo.

His dance is beautifully executed, involving great falls, jumps and leg kicks. There was a special moment when he reached with extended fingers as he moved to the back of the stage, an appeal for help. Bibene is a fine performer whose work reflects the suffering of an embattled continent. His dance is an example of how politics becomes personal.

Dana Lawton, with dancers Rosana Barragan, CatherineMarie Davalos and Jia Wu gave the world premiere of “Who Is She?” During intermission, doll houses with tiny objects associated with women were put on the apron of the stage. In response to the question “Who is she?” Lawton’s work offered moments of mystery, questions of birth, an adventure in dressing and movements of play, all aspects of women’s world.

The group entered carrying lanterns and slowly proceeded to four upstage platforms, which served as both resting places and a surface for low crawling movement. During the “dressing” episode, Lawton emerges from the platform in black shorts and bra and is dressed, caressed and tumbled by her fellow dancers, perhaps as a bride both cared for and humiliated. The four dances were especially effective in the playful section, when all cavorted together with long swings followed by easy falls, floor rolls and rebounds. The group ended as they began, with a slow walk downstage, a mesmerizing effect.

Costumes for the production were by Davalos and Lawton, performance director was Rebecca Engle. Linda Baumgardner provided the excellent lighting for both pieces. Congratulations are in order to SFIAF Director Andrew Wood for innovative programming.

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