Review: Margaret Jenkins Dance Company "Global Moves"
Updated: Jun 19
On Thursday night Margaret Jenkins did herself, and her eponymous company Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (MJDC), proud with a world premiere worthy of her auspicious golden anniversary. “Global Moves” is aptly titled, a performance crafted and performed by collaborators from China, Israel, India and the United States. The title also speaks to the importance of people moving across borders, developing mutual understanding. Finally, it may refer to the necessity for nations to act collectively in addressing climate change, health scares and humanitarian crises. If that seems like more than one 90-minute dance could take on, then you haven’t met Margaret Jenkins or experienced the richness of her multi-layered approach.
MJDC is known for creating dance performances in both site-specific and theater settings. Rather than choosing one setting over the other, “Global Moves” was presented in two sections, one outside and the other inside.
The first twenty-minutes was performed in the grassy rectangular courtyard of the Presidio Theatre backed by a eucalyptus grove. It began with the echo of a Tibetan singing bowl. Down a staircase ten figures dressed in tan robes approached through the trees. The singing bowl tones faded as an East Indian inspired electronic tune took its place. Dancers filled the lawn moving individually, finding their unique ways in the world. After a time, duos formed and fell away. These were uncertain pairings in which one was as likely to be pushed away as welcomed. Embraces were offered but rarely accepted as the unwilling participants ducked down and out of hugging arms.
Paul Dresher, working with Joel Davel, composed and performed the musical score. They used a variety of invented acoustic and electronic instruments to lay in live music on top of pre-recorded loops, including, at times, city traffic sounds. The soundscape set the stage beautifully, signaling transitions and helping the audience find their way. The final moments of the outdoor section were danced in unison to an udu’s percussive beat. The dancers gathered in a worshipful tableau, palms together, chests high, faces toward the sky. They then led us, the audience, into the theater up a set of stairs, opposite those they had come down.
Inside a new world awaited. A dominating white half round wall, segmented vertically into four pieces, created a backdrop. For me it represented a setting-sun, a half-moon, and the world. Production Designer Jack Beuttler skillfully enriched the dance segments with a variety of images projected on the scenic wall.
A voice asked “What if, as the bird, we could land on a wire or the sand, free from boundaries?” Performers lay down side by side on the floor. One rose and began crossing the stage by stepping gently upon the bodies of the others. She was absorbed into the group and another stood to continue the journey, step by careful step.
Later an actor, Rinde Eckert, wearing a fedora and a trench coat, entered an empty stage with suitcase in hand. Dancers now wearing form-fitting dresses, pants and tops. They interacted briefly with the man, before he wandered off. There was an urgency to the dancers’ movements, as they filled the stage, rarely moving in unison. Eventually they worked things out with each other and built cohesion. Where there was resistance to hugs outside there was now acceptance. The community moved together to lift a dancer high above their heads, helping that person soar for a moment.
Eckert, our traveler, our everyman, came and went throughout, coming into focus and fading magically away. Each time he wore different traveling clothes. Once he entered subtly manipulating a 10” white globe using only the backs of his wrists, giving the effect of the ball floating along in front of him. Another time his globe became a drum which he used to support his eerie vocalizing.
Dancer Tristan Ching Hartmann entered wearing a green dress, clearly other in a sea of orange-clad colleagues. She swirled in and out of them, her movements distinct from their linear shapes. As the ochre group adopted a synchronous pattern, she fell to the back of the pack, copying and learning from the group.
There were stand-out moments throughout the piece. Yahui Lu’s breathtaking solo, in which her body rolls had the fluidity of water coursing through her torso, was a highlight, as was the Kathak-inspired duet by Indranil Ghosh and Joyita Pal. But “Global Moves” is essentially about the collective and the work shown brightest when the whole company was onstage. The exuberant finale in which the artists ran in wide arcs, leaping joyfully, proved a fitting way to celebrate a 50th Anniversary.
“Global Moves” was an exhilarating experience, rich in meaning which resonates well beyond the final bows. As I exited, I found myself exploring the questions posed by poet Michael Palmer, repeated twice during the evening: “Who are they, dancing among the fields and in the ruins? Among the cafes and along the shore? Do they even know? Do they need to know? Who are we who watch and wonder? Do we even know?”
Review by Jen Norris - Performance June 16 - review posted June 18, 2022; corrected 6/19 9:30am
Performances June 16-19, 2022
Presidio Theater, San Francisco CA
Link to program here.
Artistic & Choreographic Direction: Margaret Jenkins
Choreographic & Rehearsal Assistant: Kelly Del Rosario
Composer: Paul Dresher with Joel Davel
Text & Narrative Structure: Michael Palmer with Rinde Eckert
Production Design: Jack Beuttler
Costume Design: Mary Domenico
Sound Design: Jacob Felix Heule
Allegra Bautista, Corey Brady,
Tristan Ching Hartmann, Carolina Czechowska,
Kelly Del Rosario, Olivia Caldeira Holston
Collaborating International Artists:
Cross Move Lab (US/China)
Guanglei Hui (Artistic Director, Performer)
Yahui Lu (Resident Choreographer, Performer)
Kolben Dance Company (Israel)
Amir Kolben (Artistic Director)
Nitzan Bardichev (Dancer Emeritus)
Irit Amichai Gabinet (Dancer Emeritus)
Tanusree Shankar Dance Company (India)
Tanusree Shankar (Artistic Director)
Indranil Ghosh (Performer)
Joyita Pal (Performer)
Guest Performer: Rinde Eckert
Readers: Michael Palmer, Ellen McLaughlin
Live Music: Dresher/Davel Invented Instrument Duo
Clarinet Loop: Ned Rothenberg
Harmonic Tuning Fork Sample: From invented instrument built by Daniel Schmidt
“Racer" by Paul Dresher
Performed by David Abel (violin), Julie Steinberg (piano)
"Cage Machine" (excerpt) by Paul Dresher
David Abel (violin soloist)
Phil Aaberg (keyboard)
Paul Hanson (bassoon)
Amy Knoles (electronic percussion)
Gene Reffkin (electronic percussion)
Craig Fry (second violin)
Paul Dresher (electric guitar)