Coming off years of sparse post-pandemic houses, a three-night sold-out run is a welcome anomaly. It is a few minutes past curtain time, and the ODC Theater is abuzz. Patrons sitting next to one of the few remaining empty seats are asked to raise their hands, so those voids may be filled by folks who have waited patiently to see if a no-show might offer them a chance to see Amy Seiwert's Imagery’s (ASI) SKETCH 13: LUCKY. Attending this thirteenth, and final, iteration of SKETCH is bittersweet. ASI will close shop in early 2024, as Founding Artistic Director Amy Seiwert prepares to lead SMUIN Ballet.
With a commitment to innovation, Seiwert created ASI with a goal of exploding pre-conceptions of what ballet is, and can be. Seiwert is fond of sharing SKETCH’s guiding principle, Intel c0-founder Gordon Moore’s quote, “if everything you try works, you aren’t trying hard enough.” Conceived as a place for choreographers to take risks, each program is shaped around a choreographic challenge meant to move the artists out of their comfort zones. One year, choreographers were asked to incorporate video in their work, another the inclusion of text or song lyrics was requested.
For SKETCH 13: LUCKY Hélène Simoneau, Trey McIntyre and Seiwert have created dances which include elements of chance. While Seiwert often speaks about the importance of providing established choreographers a safe space for experimentation and even failure, as luck would have it, this program soars. High production values and beautiful dancing from the ten-member ASI company make for a memorable farewell.
Imagery in “How it Feels” by Amy Seiwert, Courtesy Amy Seiwert's Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva. Costumes by Susan Roemer, S-Curve Apparel & Design, Lighting by Thomas Bowersox
Program notes indicate Seiwert used games impacting timing and musicality when creating her piece, “How It Feels.” A variety of musical selections are connected by short sections of static; the movement often lingers beyond the music’s end, as if the exact moment of resolution is in the hands of the performers. Dancers are masters of working non-verbally, but here a heightened intensity exists. I’m guessing improvisational scores are interwoven, allowing touch to function as a cue. A man cups a woman’s shoulder briefly, before she rotates elegantly on her toe, her hand in his. Was he inviting this movement? Does she decide how many turns, as he pays close attention? How does intense eye-contact support a coupling?
While some, like myself, may explore these ideas while watching, many will simply exalt in the commanding presence of Grace-Anne Powers’s opening solo, or the strong pairings of Anthony Cannarella and Isabella Velasquez or Matisse D'Aloisio and JD (Johnathon) Hart.
Simoneau’s “Gilded” explores a selection of poses, delivered one-by-one, then in pairings and large satisfying ensemble unison sequences. Literally reflecting each other, Velasquez and Kelsey McFalls make a charming twosome as they mirror one another, their torsos curving in opposition as one performs a body-wave to the left and the other to the right.
Disconnected from the pose vocabulary is an enigmatic duet for a dancer and a voluminous red diaphanous silk. D’Alosio does the honors on Friday and Cannarella on Saturday. They take different initial approaches. D’Alosio drapes the fabric like giant trailing wings, while Cannarella goes with the grand posture of a conquering hero as he promenades upstage draped in an oversize mantle. A plume of red arcs and falls at the end of a windmilling arm. It curves around a fanning foot, though it’s slipperiness underfoot becomes momentarily hazardous. The goal it seems is to keep the silk perpetually in motion while dancing, a task more easily said than done and full of opportunities for chance to participate.
McIntrye’s playful and engrossing “Visual Language” makes a fitting full-company finale. Through spoken word, dance and ASL secrets are revealed. “I’m going to tell you my secret, I have mixed feelings about that,” McFalls declares as she emerges from a line of silhouetted figures. She repeats the phrase in ASL, and then speaks and signs in tandem. With each repetition her signing broadens and her voice softens. Soon ASL morphs into larger gestures. The sign for “mixed,” which began as a finger circling over a palm, grows into a churning arm and a grand sweeping leg. The stage fills with individuals conveying their own mixed feelings, but committing to sharing their secrets.
A series of improvised solos accompany dramatic readings of hand-written secrets anonymously contributed by audience members. The reader speaks each secret twice, allowing a dancer to absorb it fully the first time, before setting the text to movement. The vocal cadence is purposefully varied inviting richer physical responses from the performer.
As secrets are shed, the energy of the piece becomes increasingly joyful. In bright white light, the whole company blossoms. Unburdened by half-truths, they are set free.
The costumes by Susan Roemer are ingenious. Clothed in what at first glance appears to be off-white street-wear, one soon notices business-card-sized tabs draping over a shoulder or covering a pant leg. When a dancer rotates quickly some tabs lift revealing a flash of gem-tone; a lovely manifestation of a hidden truth.
Imagery in “Visual Language” by Trey McIntyre, Courtesy Amy Seiwert's Imagery. Photo by David DeSilva. Costumes by Susan Roemer, S-Curve Apparel & Design, Lighting by Thomas Bowersox
A fourth piece, by ASI Artistic Fellow Natasha Adorlee, “Blooming Flowers and the Full Moon” (Flowers), was developed outside the SKETCH theme. It represents a section of a full-length work I look forward to seeing later in 2023.
“Flowers” is a love duet for the ages. It elucidates the pleasure and the ache that accompanies the beginning of a significant relationship. The storytelling is strong throughout. Dancers Joseph A. Hernandez and McFalls exude a magnetic connection. As flirtation yields to introspection, we vie for them to triumph, riding the waves of exaltation and uncertainty along with them. Discovering where to allow space for the other and how they fit together, the dancers lead us from their awkward beginnings through a new-found equilibrium to true love. McFalls lies stretched along her side. Her bottom foot wedges against her partner’s, while her top leg stretches up sideways so he may hold her foot in his hand. Pulling her leg causes her body to hinge up toward him, until she stands shoulder-to-shoulder beside him.
The climax finds McFalls tumbling over Hernandez’s shoulder and landing in his lap. Their faces meet, and with lips locked they rise as one. He carries her across the stage, her feet float on air as he twirls her, their kiss remains unbroken as the lights fade.
ASI and SKETCH have contributed much to the Bay Area dance scene, specifically, thirty-seven new works, twenty-seven of them by women, while employing forty-seven dancers through the years. As news of failing performance groups proliferate, it is a treat to witness this venture conclude on a well-earned high-note.
Review by Jen Norris, published August 1, 2023.
Amy Seiwert's Imagery
SKETCH 13: LUCKY JULY 28 & 29 @ 7:30PM JULY 30 @ 2:00PM* ODC THEATER,3153 17TH STREET,SAN FRANCISCO
Dancers: Anthony Cannarella Matisse D’Aloisio Johnathon Hart Joseph A. Hernandez Kelsey McFalls Austin Powers Grace-Anne Powers Alison Ramoran Tristan Toy Isabella Velasquez Click here for dancer bios Costumes: Susan Roemer, S-Curve Apparel and Design
Costumes for Blooming Flowers:
Lighting: Thomas Bowersox
Filmmakers: Ben Estabrook