Janice Garrett & Dancers
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
April 10, 2008
by Rita Felciano
copyright © 2008 Rita Felciano
Gimmicks are all the rage these days. The idea of pulling the members of a string quartet out of their chairs to have them interact with dancers sounded like a clever marketing device but not something one necessarily wanted to see. In fact “StringWreck,” the collaboration between Janice Garrett & Dancers and the Del Sol String Quartet turned out to be a deliciously entertaining, slightly wacky evening of music and dance that could charm a turnip. Collaborating choreographers Garrett and her partner Charles Moulton set the tone but its blithe spirit floated on Del Sol’s exceptionally rich musical choices.
Garrett’s six-year old company has established a reputation for beautifully shaped choreography set to unusual scores. That’s something she has in common with the Del Sol Quartet who specialize in an eclectic repertoire of new music, much of it written for them. Moulton is best known for his Precision Ball Passing pieces who also works in theater and film.
From the opening gesture in which the dancers wove their way through the players and then broke out into space as if pushing windows open, the piece suggested an anything-is-possible spirit that was both light-hearted and meticulously realized. Dancers and musicians embraced their encounters with a rush of eagerness as if they had been confined to tight quarters for too long. The hour-long work’s finely calibrated sections appealed in part because of the delicacy of even its more robust aspects. The piece ebbed and flowed with touches of humor, puzzlement, tenderness, confrontations and even a flirtation or two. Everything was brushed with the lightest of touches.
At times, the dancers acted like pesky nuisances trying to interrupt the musicians’ concentration but at the string players’ turn, their assertive crescendos cowed the dancers into backbends of submission. If the musicians were often acted upon—unceremoniously carried about, having their music stands snatched from them—they out-maneuvered their colleagues in the “Allegro Energetico” of Murray Schaefer’s String Quartet No. 3. There the musicians barked, snarled and shouted all the while playing, creating the evening’s most wonderful havoc.
Even the necessary break was choreographed. Del Sol tuned their instruments; the dancers refreshed themselves with water. Everyone gargled—in harmony.
“StringWreck” included music as diverse as Astor Piazzola, George Antheil and JS Bach. Each of the string players performed a solo. These anchored this beguiling journey into mix and match and acted as quiet focal points for the work’s thirteen sections.
Cellists need to sit to perform comfortably. Though Hannah Addario-Berrio proved herself quite willing to be airborne, the dancers obliged her for “Dialogo” from Ligeti’s Sonata for solo cello. With her feet resting on the chests of two supine dancers and a third’s back serving as “bench”, they delicately propelled her forward as if on a cart. Another high point was Charlton Lee’s viola solo. Standing on a stool in a dramatic spotlight, he soulfully played a movement from Max Reger’s Suite No.1 as the others performers quietly and slowly processed along in the shadows. For Rick Shinozaki’s playing of the “Adagio” from Bach’s Sonata No.1, the dancers built an ascending stairway that surely suggested a passage to heaven.
“StringWreck” four dancers performed excellently. Two newcomers proved good additions to the company. Kaitlyn Ebert combines speed with balletic lines while tiny Tanya Bello dances huge, attacking phrases aggressively when she didn’t snuggle herself between a player’s arm and his instrument. Nols Simonse, one of the Bay Area’s most was exquisitely nuanced dancers, was as dreamy as a fleeting thought in a gorgeous arrangement of “Black Is The Color (of My True Love’s Hair).” Lovely in his partnering, Dudley Flores made his own contribution to free-spirited dancing.
Still not everything worked equally well. Waddling like ducks with a violin between your knees, or cringing into bellyaches at dissonance was pretty simple-minded humor. Also at times, the choreography had a tiptoeing through the tulips kind of aimlessness about it as if the choreographers could not quite find adequate responses to some musical intricacies.
For the finale dancers and musicians faced each other. The players generously handed over their instruments as the dancers scratched out a brave but god-awful version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars.” They gave a whole new perspective to “StringWreck.”
Photo: RJ Muna.
Dancer Tanya Bello and Rick Shinozaki from Del Sol.
Copyright © Rita Felciano