"Dance Lovers 7"
James Graham Dance Theatre
San Francisco, CA
February 8, 2018
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano 2018
Watching two dancers work out a relationship on stage – whether romantic, exploratory, contentious or distanced — can raise the question about how they might interact when the curtain comes down. Is this relevant in terms of what we just saw? Perhaps not, but we do know that behind these masks are human beings with private lives that may or may not enter their professional endeavors. James Graham Dance Theatre’s “Dance Lovers” now in its seventh year, confronts the question head-on. He invites dancers who are in one-on-one relationships as, what he calls “couples, crushes and comrades” to create a duet about that connection. Perhaps, the best part of this seventy-five minute Valentines program was the freshness with which these dancers approached their task. Not a whiff of sentimentality intruded this evening of dances that in equal parts were delightful, amusing or tender. The seven duets ranged from the elementary to the sophisticated and professional. In all of them love ruled supreme. Part of this program’s charm was in seeing the non-dancers overcome whatever stage fright they might have had.
Photo: James Graham and Sheila Graham Price in "Do More of That"
Photo Credit: Robbie Sweeney
Colin Creveling and Naomi’s Aeva’s “Untitled”, an intricate and daring trapeze performance, excelled with joyful exuberance in the way the performers challenged and embraced each other. Their aerial work had a smooth and elegant flow not always evident in the discipline. On a technically much simpler level, the sister duo “Voices of Tomorrow/Dances from Yesterday” cooperated in tight hugs where individual arms disappeared and canon and unison patterns emerged. This was very much a beginner’s work, yet one that asked formal questions.
In “Vogue and Tone” dancer Jocquese Whitfield and DJ Spider at one point exchanged roles. Spider showed a respectable catwalk and whacking arms while Whitfield egged him on from the mike. Whitfield is a superb dancer with speed, precision and an explosive style, whether on his back or trying to keeps his hands from taking off. The give and take between these two professionals was electrifying, in part they had such a good time themselves.
Nol Simonse and Christy Funsch have been working together for well over a decade. By now they respond to each other almost before they start a move. Yet they couldn’t be more different. She is tiny, precise and focused; he is the more liquid performer; the two personalities complement each other. The magnificent excerpt from Simonse’s “the beauty and ruin of friends, of bodies” examines this tension.
Simonse in a fur collar and a buck’s horns seemed curious about this “girl” in a red dress and steady gaze. It’s not quite beauty and the beast; Funsch has too much steel combined with play. Her gestures are small, yet carved. When Simonse gets too close, she raises her hand, he backs off; the touch of her finger sends him to the ground. Finally, he seems to give up. He takes off his animal accoutrements and strips of his clothes. We only see his fully tattooed back. Funsch stands in front of him. What is she thinking?
“The Dad Joke at the End of the World” featured a very pregnant Miriam and dad-to-be Andy Wolodarski-Lundberg in a theatrical sketch with an unexpected twist. After he had told jokes, she stepped up to the mike and addressed the unborn child, apologizing for having to be born into a world as awful as her litany suggested. Simple, direct and unflinching, she nevertheless finished on the upbeat by wishing her daughter a good life.
“just duet” closed the evening with Melecio Estrella and Andrew Jones in a evocative work that celebrates an evolving marriage. Wearing jackets and ties, hand in hand, they look every bit a wedding portrait. Like young lovers everywhere they explore each other’s body, relishing their togetherness even as arms struggle. Estrella steps apart for some solo moves. He returns, and they end where they started: holding hands.