Liss Fain Dance
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
August 27, 2009
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2009
There is a lot of be said to for watching Liss Fain’s choreography though hers is anything but a protean imagination. Fain’s palette is restricted, grays and blacks, etchings not paintings. Her dancers move beautifully but if they move us at all, they do so from a distance. Almost always the choreography proceeds at an even pace with little sense of urgency or hesitation. You watch these dances with your brain but your heart never skips a beat. Still to see acute intelligence at work and so consistently realized has its own rewards, particularly if it is placed into Matthew Antaky’s elegant visual and lighting designs.
Liss Fain Dance’s most recent concert first showed three works made since 2004 and, in the second half, two American premieres, her own “Out of Silence” and the 2002 “Towards the Good Silence (to Bruno Schultz),” by Ryszard Kalinowski from the Lublin Dance Theater in Poland.
Despite the similarity in names the two works could not be more different from each other. Fain’s approach towards the topic, set to music by Gyorgi Ligeti and Osvaldo Golijov, appears to listen to the silence inside us. She rarely steps out of her reserve—even when dancers jump each other or are turned upside down--but she shapes the space beautifully and balances her ballet-based vocabulary with energetic use of the arms.
Jeremiah Crank and Justin Flores start what becomes a series of duets that splatter into the wings only to re-emerge in ever changing configurations. Among them is an almost-struggling one for Daphne Zneimer and Mira Cook. Curiously, in the second half of the piece, when Golijov’s cello writing cries out in anguish, the dancing barely heats up. It feels like going up a small hill when you are used to the plains. Marlowe Bassett designed the luscious beige-on-beige costumes, with the women in diaphanous short-in-front skirts.
“…the Good Silence,” which choreographer Kalinowski strongly performed with Ana Zak, is everything Fain is not: passionately expressive and narrative. The highly dramatic work is dedicated, and inspired by Polish writer, teacher and graphic artist Bruno Schultz who has become a revered figure in Poland in part because of his extreme shyness and modesty. Kalinowski, tall and bony, is a good head and a half taller than the small and lithe Zak. They made for a curious couple. She became both a mother figure—tender and solicitous—and an object of sexual desires—teasing and flirtatious—while he was the tortured artist who both wanted and rejected whatever she represented.
Even though the work’s trajectory veered towards the melodramatic, many of its compelling images and the dancers strong commitment to their parts kept the piece from sliding into the obvious. Kalinowski balanced ferocious physicality—fierce contractions, flailings on the floor, reaches into the void, grabbing and pushing—with moments of great vulnerability and openness. Zak, an actor as well as a ballet-trained dancer, adapted to his every demand. She was a vision of a sex kitten who alluringly turned a book’s pages with her toes, a caretaker who lovingly adjusted his suspenders, and an experienced partner who opened her legs so that he could drag himself between them.
The excerpts from earlier work showed the company in fine mettle. In ‘Lament’, an excerpt from “Madrigals of Love and War” (2006), the lyrical Cook, the clean and powerfully jumping Davies and Jennifer Beamer Fernandez’ exquisite lines held their own individually. As a trio, however, they seemed to struggle with arriving at a common purpose. More alienating, however, was what looked like a mismatch between Fain’s cool choreography and Monteverdi’s plangent music.
“Resolved” was a reworking of last year’s “At the Time” to a different Steve Reich score. Flores now partnered Bethany Mitchell who wore a balloon shaped instead of a tattered skirt. This is probably as expressively overt—much rolling about and intertwining limbs—as Fain ever gets. The couple’s evolving relationship, if such there was going to be, inexplicably got cut short.
“Unknown Land” (2004), to Ligeti’s stringent Piano Concerto, opened the evening. Some of those canonic entrances and the constant flow of shifting configurations after a while began to feel like never-stopping rain. Still Fain’s single minded purpose, and the demanding music—by now her trademark—couldn’t help but draw you in.
Liss Fain Dance
Photo: RJ Muna