San Francisco, CA
December 3, 2015
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano 2015
How splendid it would be if a pregnant idea and excellent collaborators would make for great dance. Unfortunately, you need choreography that examines a concept and translates it into something we didn't know before. In the hour-long "Mainframe," Katharine Hawthorne explored the advent of computers and the role they are playing in our lives. Have they, and if so, how have they changed our perception of ourselves and the way we interact with each other? What could be more topical to think about and give shape to it through dance? Hawthorne, a superb dancer who brings a background of physics and dance to her dance making, seems eminently qualified to tackle the subject. As a choreographer, she is young but works that looked at the body as a machine ("Analog") and in relation to time ("Clockwork") have shown an intriguing mind at work. Last year's solo ("Cave") -- yes, Plato's -- was superb. Yet "Mainframe" did not stand up to its promise.
Gary Champi in "Mainframe." Photo © Benjamin Hersh
Hawthorne's choreography suggested disruption and angularity but also a sense of curiosity and wonder: abrupt stops, silences, almost collisions, reaching limbs and speed curls on the floor. The Vitruvian Man leaps and the dolphin-like back rises made their own comment. Individually and together the dancers seemed to be involved in something that they didn't quite understand but were vaguely amused by.
Early on Gary Champi, the outside observer, gradually is drawn into the quartet's (Katherine Disenhof, Gabriel Mata, Suzette Sagisi, Megan Wright) world. Discovering the Mac, he circles it fearfully and cautiously, but eventually warms up it, hugging it like a teddy bear. At this point, I thought Hawthorne aimed for a comedy; but if so, most of its humor escaped me.
Two sections showed real promise. Hawthorne, who recorded and mixed "Mainframe's" score, introduced parts of a Beethoven Piano Sonata and choreographed some version of social dancing. In duos and trios, the dancers tentatively entered relationships. They seemed puzzled as if calling up a memory.
Later the dancers exploded to shouted computer instructions ("shift", "return", "delete") together with everyday exhortations ("do it individually", "keep shaking"). Repeated, the dancing and the commands sped into a mad, indistinguishable mix of machine and human exhortations. I loved to see this example of how language is changing, not just here but anywhere where computer terms have become part of ordinary parlance. The human/machine exchange with Siri--Apple's rather lame personal assistant--had similar potential but was too long and didn't lead anywhere.
By themselves, Sterling King and Sibilla's geometric, highly stylized costumes looked first rate. Unfortunately, they turned the dancers into robots or something out of science fiction. To my eyes, dragging out the cliché of the mechanical man undercut Hawthorne's intent.
Unfortunately, "Mainframe" limped towards its end. When in disemboweling a Mac, Disendorf discovered, besides what looked like a lengthy umbilical cord, a red velvet heart, something should have happened. Is that why the "lonely" dancers just walked out, because they hadn't discovered the "heart?" A raucously passionate duet between Megan Wright and Suzette Sagisi just broke apart, leaving Champi perplexed. I was too.