World’s on Fire

World’s on Fire

ODC Dance

Artistic Director: Brenda Way

Co-Artistic Director: KT Nelson

Associate Choreographer: Kimi Okada

Resident Choreographer: Kate Weare
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Mar. 7-10, 2019

Reviewed on Mar. 7, 2019

It’s informative to read in ODC Artistic Director Brenda Way’s program notes that motivation on her part for mounting Kate Weare’s full-length work “World’s on Fire” issues from a wish to look deeply into our heartland, to better understand what Way tags as a “divisive” culture. It’s certainly a more sanguine approach to the rural poor than the one taken in Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” outburst. Of course, the upside of the Clinton spleen-venting sound byte was its exposure of a purely choleric class bias to vote against. If it qualified as “divisive,” it did us the service of confirming the existence of certain immutable class divisions. It reminded us that the multi-class electoral “we” is plucked from a lower-hanging basket of deliberate confusions and politically illiterate illusions.

In “World’s on Fire,” Kate Weare has created a “from the mountains to the prairies” folkloric work for the current crop of ODC dancers. They have been axiomatically culled from a Vaganova school, a National Guard police squadron, and first and second-string classical and contemporary ballet companies. As an ensemble, they represent a geographical spread extending from the Philippines to Overland, Kansas. Weare chooses a genre of music composed and arranged by Jeff Kazor, that shoehorns this rangy troupe into an artistic footprint comparable to an Airstream mobile home. It appears that Weare was intending to respond to a treasure trove of authentic, carefully curated musical traditions among mountain and plains dwellers, while simultaneously reprising a monoculture as multicultural scripture.

The Crooked Jades accompanied the dancers on stringed instruments. Played jauntily or hauntingly, at first blush, the melodies enliven, but ultimately, they upstage the choreography.  Women dancers wear Anthropologie-style earth-hued summer dresses and the men, casual wear in the same muted tones (Costumes: Sarah Cubbage). The set is a bolder, more aggressive incarnation of the Jardi Tancat post-fence surround.  

Weare has given the dancers novel, appealing shapes that want a home for their texture in a more expansive genre of music. There are pauses where the music stops dead to punctuate a combination; further truncation comes with an ending stamp or a timed swat by an article of clothing. Contrapuntal elements meant to alert city slickers to what is cyclical in farm or mountain life assert themselves throughout. When a woman sits up, her male partner falls flat; circling lifts meet with jet-propelled floor slides. Forces of nature fashioned into human quatrains roll in like amber waves of grain until flagged down by side-by-side dancers as chugging freight.

Stringed instruments implore; silences stand in for scenic shifts.  In a segment to the song “Judgment,” we hear “one foot on the land, one on the sea,” as balletic arabesques indicate wet foot, dry foot. An evocative adagio is the prequel to a men’s duet in silhouette. Flips, struts and dos y dos complete the tapestry’s taxonomy.
All the shapes, so imaginatively conceived, could and should engage us, but they are held hostage to clogging music the audience cheerfully  claps along to, but which is preternaturally averse to the smuggled-in pirouette or arabesque.

Intended as the single, occasional full-length work for the ODC gala program on March 8, which is International Women’s Day, it feels like Cinderella will be going to the ball absent her glass slippers. In the period we are living through, with the world on fire in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Paris, Ukraine, Paradise, Port-au-Prince, and the Silk Road (for Kurds with no homeland), why not remount a piece that carries the heft of, say, Kimi Okada’s stunning and stirring “Flight to Ixcan,” which references her brother’s disappearance in Guatemala? A work such as Okada’s could help us to understand that there is nothing new to fear in the current geopolitical conflagration, including the mistaken notion that “it” can all go away without those who have fallen prey to its rapaciousness (as opposed to those profiting from it) stamping their collective feet and standing up to hasten the fall of the empire.

Toba Singer

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.