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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Dance Mission Theater Presents HARVEST Choreographers Showcase - Oct 7 & 8, 23 San Francisco

Dance Mission Theater’s HARVEST: Fall Choreographers Showcase provides non-juried performance opportunities for both emerging and established choreographers. I caught Program B, the second of two distinct programs offered over consecutive weekends. A dozen dances are slated for performance, though one is not able to be performed this Sunday night, perhaps due to ongoing pandemic challenges. The eleven that hit the stage reflect much of the diversity of the Bay Area dance scene. All benefit from Dance Mission’s excellent professional production team of Harry Rubeck on lights and Patrick Sweeney on sound. The program is tight, running at just over an hour.

Movement Vision, a hip-hop trio comprised of Korea Venters, Mika Lemoine and Kyziah Selah bow; Photo J. Norris

The evening begins with the hip hop stylings of Korea Venters, who performs with Mika Lemoine and Kyziah Selah in a piece titled “What Will Be Will Be.” These ladies have each other’s back, beginning and ending in a bopping sports huddle. Their first piece is memorable for its fluid hip hop moves laced with gestures which mimic the song’s lyrics: an arm extended in front of oneself arcs as if driving a car, while two fists twisting over one’s eyes signal tears.

Two solos drawn from world dance forms shine brightly on this evening. The first, Keluarga Laut (Sea Families) is choreographed and performed by Shawn Lee to a light-hearted song sung by a Chinese high school choir. The movement, with its repeating gestures to the sky and the sea, has the flavor of classical Chinese dance. Lee’s focus is a woven Chinese fishing hat with a domed top and wide round brim. Lee wears a calf length skirt, which highlights the frequent backward foot flicks that create the dance’s accents. Smiling broadly with joyous energy Lee windmills and then spins dervish-like hat in hand. I imagine if this dance is traditional, it is danced to invite or celebrate a successful fishing outing.

Mizuho Sato performs a magnificent flamenco number atop a 4x8 wooden dance floor center stage. Her carriage is perfectly upright. The staccato attack of her footwork is commanding and her arms are suitably expressive. Enigmatically, she wears a form fitting ”Star Wars” tank top and long black fringe skirt whose strands echo her vibrations. Her hands circle each other in a mating dance, with long fingers blossoming petal-like. Emphasizing her control and flexibility, Sato concludes with a thrilling drop into a goddess pose, seated upright with knees jutting in dramatic symmetry.

Flamenco dancer Mizuho Sato performs at Dance Mission Theater; Photo from video @mizuhosato888

The comingling of traditional ethnic dance forms with contemporary themes and styles is a Bay Area tradition. Perhaps the most impactful on this evening, 30 hours after Hamas’s attack and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war, is Shtel performed by the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble (NCDE). Performing to Jewish music of longing and celebration by Apollo’s Fire, nine dancers in puffy-sleeved white blouses and vests over wide-legged multicolored pants adopt extended arm postures. Elements of the Horah, the traditional cross-stepping circle-dance, infuse the proceedings. The festive nature of the second song finds them cartwheeling and performing deep squatting front kicks.

For Shtel, choreographer Carlitz was Inspired by Marc Chagall’s stained-glass window, “The Tribe of Issachar,” and mural “Introduction to the Jewish Theater.” A quick check of NCDE’s website shows that each of her dances has a piece of artwork as its center. In 2023 alone she has crafted work in response to paintings by Edward Hopper, Piet Mondrian and Georgia O'Keeffe. Showcases are great places to discover new talent and I am grateful to have had this introduction to this well-established South Bay based choreographer.

Two more new-to-me contemporary choreographers also present work. Sandra Scheuber’s company, Leaps and Bounds Dance, offers the premiere of her Through the Storm. Dramatic tension builds through the juxtaposition of a trio of women in soft grey silks versus the starched white figure of a lone woman. The title suggests the swirling obstructing figures represent the storm through which the solo traveler must physically and metaphorically travel. In the darkness of the theater, I didn’t have the title in mind and created my own narrative of mystical initiation in which mythical goddesses test and then welcome individuals. Either way, as the woman-in-white struggles to weave through the powerful and chaotic others, it is poetic. As she gathers her strength to push them away, we hope for her escape. In the end success is found when she stops fighting and moves with the tide instead of against it.

Leaps and Bounds Dance performing at the Choreographer's Showcase; Photo from Sandi Scheuber's FB Page

Maggie Ogle’s Tangled Curves follows the trajectory of her evocative sound score. The piece unfolds in a forest where birds sing above the sound of a cracking, falling tree. Thunder signals the approach of a torrential rain storm that clears as night falls. Are the dancers channeling woodland creatures, the forest as ecosystem, or environmentalist hellbent on preventing deforestation? It is difficult to say, but the movement is compelling. Whether dashing in a full stage circle, rolling like logs, or stacked in planked position on locked forearms, the urgency of the delivery, by performers Annika Mikk, Sophia Grimani, Sierra Paola and Ogle herself, is absorbing.

Sometimes a small idea well-executed is just right. Such is the case with Sophia Grimani and Will Loewen’s mirroring duet Crispation. We discover them bent in half, backs touching. Rising slowly, matching each other’s every move, their palms meet creating a bridge above them. They are most fascinating when in close proximity to each other, where their mirrored actions read like an illusionary Escher drawing.

maybe this time choreographed by Jordan Wanderer in collaboration with fellow dancers Camille Henrot, Molly Matutat, Katherine Neumann, and Madeline Sager takes its title from the Liza Minelli song about how everyone loves a winner, which supports the second half of the piece. Initially, we hear a woman share her anxiety about not being good enough, finding comfort eventually in her own imagined irrelevancy as she muses, “how is anyone going to know if I am any good if they aren’t even watching?” A quintet of dancers, in red satin boxing shorts, vie for a place in the front of their tight cluster. They each repeat the same simple phrase which starts from a slump-headed droop, rises with a lifted knee in anticipation of a forward step, which then falls strangely behind creating a slight backward trajectory. It is a subtle but meaningful manifestation of frustrated ambition. While maybe this time ends with a ravishing and declarative assertion of individuality and victory in Henrot’s final side kick, I hope this piece continues to develop and that additional showings occur; it’s a keeper.

Two short and similar solo works round out the program, one by Lauren Gerrity and the other by Mary Vo. Both were too succinct for me to catch much on first viewing.

The belly dance finale by Jill Parker and nine of her adult advanced students is a showstopper. With undulating torsos and vining arms, the women stand in formation layered to create the illusion of multitudes. The women’s articulation and isolation of hips, shoulder and chests is hypnotically beautiful. With their backs to us, their harem pants sit low allowing the full beauty of their swaying hips to have full impact.

Jill Parker and some of her advanced belly dance students bow: Photo J. Norris

Dance Mission Theater’s continued presentations of their bi-annual Choreographers’ Showcase, Dancing in Revolt(ing) Times - D.I.R.T. Festival, Black Choreographers’ Showcase, and Women of Hip-Hop is one of the many ways they support the health of the Bay Area’s amazing dance community. Thank you Dance Mission.

Review by Jen Norris, published October 9, 2023

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