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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Choreofest 2022 – July 23

Choreofest, an annual outdoor site-specific contemporary dance festival, returned to Yerba Buena Gardens (YBG) Festival Saturday July 23. Curated by RAWdance, four dance companies performed throughout the Gardens. Audience members moved en masse from location to location.

(Photo Credit: Jen Norris of Kyle Limin performing in A Spectacular Mess YBG Festival)

RAWdance’s A Spectacular Mess, choreographed by Katerina Wong in collaboration with the performers, opened the program. The performance began with a series of emotional stories told by the performers. As the music and the movement began, the four performers, clothed in bright short coveralls, danced with exuberance. They used the full space including the front stairs and the light poles. From a series of duets, the piece built to a sunny quartet in which they skipped, spun, sashayed and strut-walked together.

The soundscape transitioned often from upbeat vocals, to rhythmic jazz, to a section of live laughter, followed by a collage of sound effects. There was a bubble machine and bursts of multicolored streamers. This piece had it all, which may be the point of a spectacular mess. However, I wished for fewer gimmicks. Wong and her collaborators, Stacey Yuen, ArVejon Jones, and Kyle Limin, are wonderfully skilled dancers. It would have been great to allow them to tell the story without so much clutter. While the piece concluded on a somber note, with all seated at the base of a tetherball pole, the narratives at the beginning left me looking for more moments of reflection or duality amidst the high-spirited dancing.

Part of the fun of Choreofest is the variety of ways in which the artists use the vast campus. FACT/SF’s Phase, choreographed by Charles Slender-White, was set in a wide walkway backed by a black tiled building. Audience members were guided to a 3rd floor terrace opposite the building to view the dance from above. This vantage allowed the patterns to come forward and diluted the individuality of the performers.

Eight dancers dressed in long-sleeved black turtlenecks, cuffed black shorts and red knee socks were faced away from the audience. They moved in formation, hands resting on their upper thighs. Their steps were mincing, almost a shuffle. Peering down I wondered whether they were prisoners or uniformed school children in a dystopic future.

Prescribed straight-armed gestures, reminiscent of a semaphore flag signaling, were performed in sequence passing one to another. Slender-White capitalized on the space by having performers leap into the building nooks two feet above the ground and barely larger than a human. This action was startling and enthralling as the dancers remained facing inward confined to moving an arm. As the piece closed, I imagined these yardbirds condemned to incessantly repeat their skittering sequences.

Fullstop Dance chose Rorschach inkblot tests as the inspiration for their aptly titled You Could be Anything, a work-in-progress by choreographer and dancer Kathryn Florez. Set in the linear plaza atop the waterfall, two dancers dressed in pink, crouched mirroring each other, a physical embodiment of the bilaterally symmetrical inkblot cards. Three other dancers, two in army-green, and one in gold, moved in the space as the audience assembled.

While never touching, these dancers were connected throughout, either moving in unison or in reaction to each other. In shiny black shoes, they took long strides, lunged and reached with extended limbs. Their arms windmilled and as they tipped forward, a leg flung up and back in a controlled spiral. In a line, rocking and pacing, bent at the waist, hands deep in their pants pockets, they paced intently along the knee-high backwall, like a group of stockbrokers late for a sale.

Nava Dance Theatre uses bharatanatyam, a classical south Indian dance form, as their medium. For Rogue Gestures they performed on the raised platforms and walkways of YBG’s Children's Garden, with the audience seated in the grassy areas looking up. Three of their four pieces used traditional gestures and hand shapes with thumb to the middle finger and the other fingers extended. The dancers wore black short saris over colorful blouses and full back pants gathered at the ankles, where bells were wrapped above bare feet.

The third piece was unique in texture and casting. It was performed by three women clothed in long blue tunics and beige culottes. A narrative of sorts unfolded. Using their hands, working separately, they mimed building a low tower of grain or sand, which collapsed repeatedly and had to be rebuilt. Suddenly they covered their ears. They were distraught, as they looked into the distance. Two dropped to their knees, pulling in an invisible net, as the third fell heavily forward at the waist before rising again hands over her head with great effort, as if cutting down something huge.

The fourth section was introduced by choreographer Nahdi Thekkek, who shared that this dance was about allowing joy. She graciously gave us permission to enjoy the dance without concern for our lack of knowledge of Indian dance. The elegance and posture maintained while performing fast-paced arm gestures, and rhythmic footwork was impressive, as was the control required to balance in poses. Near the end, the dancers entered the audience, clapping and stomping creating an inclusive conclusion to a multifaceted afternoon of al fresco contemporary dance.

(Photo Credit: Jen Norris of Nava Dance Theatre in Children's Garden, Yerba Buena Gardens)

Review by Jen Norris - published July 24, 2022


Program here.

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