The CONCEPT Series
Hope Mohr Dance, Nol Simonse, Project Agora,
“RAWdance, Vispo Dance
James Howell Studio
San Francisco, CA
December 1, 2007
by Rita Felciano
copyright © by Rita Felciano
Before the advent of the Internet and the name of the eponymous magazine, the word “salon” evoked upper class living rooms or powerful women like Madame de Sévigny or Madame de Pompadour who exerted their considerable influence from behind teacups. So when RAWdance’s Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith announced an evening of coffee and cake in addition to informal performances, the idea sounded intriguing. Judging from the crowd that packed the minuscule James Howell Studio in a residential San Francisco neighborhood, this novel way of presenting new dance, just might find a spot for itself. The evening was short, sweet and savvy.
Even though this studio—squashed between two Victorians, down a long alley--is primarily used for yoga classes today, it has a history of dance. Built in the seventies by Gerald Arpino and former Joffrey dancer James Howell, the space is long and narrow like a bowling lane, accommodating one row of seats and one of cushions on each side of its length. One would assume this to be eminently unsuitable for performances. Yet the organizers simply asked the audience to move its chairs and cushions according to each piece’s requirements.
RAWdance presented three pieces. The fast-paced “Accused” took full advantage of the space’s odd dimensions by sending its five dancers loping up and down this “runway” arrangement. Sometimes dancers at either end would mirror each other, with double duets of lifts and turns happening in the middle. At other times they would line up stiff-limbed like pegs pinned to a board. Because the space was so narrow, the piece developed a claustrophobic sense of energy being forced into a channel, like storm water shooting down a creek. In the increasingly violent finale female dancers repeatedly jumped Smith. Every encounter increased the momentum that forced him steadily down an imaginary chute and into the arms of women who knocked him against the wall that they had struggled against themselves.
“After 5:00 Duet”, a work in progress that already has a good trajectory, pitted Smith and Rein against each other in a power struggle that started out on a comically macabre note. With Smith plopped in an easy chair, glass and bottle in hand, Rein draped herself over his shoulders, her tentacle limbs keeping bottle and glass from his lips. On the floor, their encounters became increasingly intense, yanking and throwing each others with moments of standoffs being less a truce than an opportunity to catch their breath to go at each other even more fiercely. At the end you were left with the uneasy feeling not of closure but of an endlessly repeating cycle of fights for survival.
A trio, “Schematic Process,” for Smith, Rein and Laura Sharp fascinated with its stiff-legged, angular and robotic verticality, the formality of its design and the purity of its execution. The piece worked from a clearly defined concept and consistently held to it. Stripped down and bare, this was a dance of lines and angles of the body, the geometry of the physical in space. Even hops and trembles were images of exactitude; progressions could have been charted on graph paper.
Nol Simonse, one of the busiest freelance dancers in the area, recently started to choreograph. In this excerpt from “The Myth of Orion in 5 Songs,” he chose to work with two actors and two dancers for a lilting mix of movement and theater. The shortish piece tells the story of two great Greek hunters, Orion, son of Poseidon, and Artemis, daughter of Apollo. Quite short but nicely paced and with nuanced sense of the comic, the sketch included a charming duet for Simonse and the lovely Tanya Bello which traced a budding relationship cut short.
Simonse also partnered Kara Davis (Project Agora) in her intriguing “Exit Wound.” Both of them are lushly physical performers, which in Davis sometimes would manifest itself –to use a term from pre-feminist days--as “womanliness” if she weren’t such a movement-devouring dynamo. Like duelists the two dancers approached each other from opposite sides, with Simonse gesturing while Davis appeared to proceed more hesitatingly. When they finally engaged, the commitment to each other looked absolute: in the lifts, the stopped falls, the shared weight and the pushing against each other. I have seen the piece several times but have never been able to figure out the significance of its title but as piece of pure dance it works.
Also participating in this amiable salon were Erin Okayama (Vispo Dance) with her 2003 “touch (ReConstruction).” Hope Mohr's excerpt from “Moments of Being,” will be included in the work’s world premiere in March at Dance Mission Theater.
Photo credit: RAWdance
copyright © Rita Felciano