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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Nancy Karp + Dancers present 2024 Performance Season, April 6 & 7, 2024 Taube Atrium Theater, San Francisco

At the talkback, following Nancy Karp + Dancers 2024 Performance Season matinee, moderator Charles Amirkhanian refers to Karp’s work as neo-classical and Apollonian.  In case you, like I, need to look that up, Apollonian means “harmonious, measured, ordered, or balanced in character.”  Neo-classical, as applied to ballet, refers to a minimalistic aesthetic.  Both terms are fitting descriptions of the ethereal dance Karp and her dancers presented in the Taube Atrium Theater over the weekend.


It is refreshing to see dance unencumbered by speech, projected images, sets, or props, my mind allowed to wander, making meaning of the motion, followings its trajectories as I choose.  The program opens with the premiere of Eppur si muove, a prelude to Karp’s fly through the night, and land near dawn (2022), which follows. “Eppur si muove,” Galileo’s utterance after being forced to recant his assertion of heliocentrism (the concept that the Earth revolves around the sun), is Italian for “and yet it moves.”


Sonsherée Giles, downstage, in Nancy Karp + Dancers' Eppur si muove Photo: John Hefti


Karp is an important artistic generator in the Bay Area. Regularly investing in collaboration with other artists, she celebrated her 40th Dance-Anniversary several years ago, and subsequently placed her archives at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library. But thankfully she is not done yet.


Both Eppur si muove and fly through the night are performed to live music by the Friction Quartet with guest artists Haruka Fujii (percussion) and David A. Jaffe (mandolin and mandocello). The selections by living composers present at the performance and talk back are Samuel Adams’s “Sundial,” for Eppur si muove and a trio of pieces by David A. Jaffee for fly through the night.


I enjoyed and reviewed fly through the night previously, and am looking forward to seeing it again, but first Eppur si muove.  Both pieces take inspiration from the movement of small songbirds, but what I notice in this new piece is the circular and the human, as if Karp is “doubling down on the fact of the Earth’s heliocentric orbit.”  Arms rotate fully around shoulders, drawing arcs in the air.  Hands lift, creating a bowl in which fingers tinkle like the petals of a poppy in the wind.


With an expression of doubt and concern, Nol Simonse, taps his head as if to activate it. As the sole male performer in Eppur si muove I have gone quite literal and am wondering if he represents the frustrations of Galileo, a scientist disbelieved and vilified.  His focus, unlike the others, is often skyward, thinking, observing. Amy Lewis nestles into his chest, his arm around her in a human connection which stands out against the plethora of abstract dancing.  Moments later, he lays on the floor balancing her atop an extended arm and leg, her form horizontally splayed against the wall, as unmoving limbs resemble a pinned butterfly specimen.


With the introduction of isolated chimes, the six-member company fall in and out of playful unisons, dashing and waving, pushing off another’s shoulder to get a little height.  The energy is high and jubilant as the lights fade, surprisingly soon (Eppur si muove is perhaps fifteen minutes in length).  


After a short pause for the rearrangement of the musical guests, the dance resumes.  The sextet for fly through the night includes original cast member Calvin Thomas, in place of Rachel Garcia from part one. As the opening plucked strings of Jaffe’s “Fox Hollow” resonate, the dancers open their bodies backward into one-legged arabesque, birds launching into flight.


The avian resonates with arms windmilling, elbows carving and stances which find one untethered foot rubbing along the calf of a standing shore-bird leg.  Anna Greenberg with hands behind her head folds her elbows inward in a quick accent.  A pivoting flock forms as a bluegrass tune emerges.  The ensemble moves forward with a kick and then retreats slightly with a sprightly two step. A melodic moment finds Thomas and Greenberg rotating side by side quickly across the stage, before she dashes off head back, full wingspan extended, chest leading. I look forward to Anna Greenberg’s presence, not just for her graceful embodiment of the movement but for her recurring exiting flourish plunging her chest forward as she leaps from sight, sometimes with a flutter of her feet. 


Alert to predators, these birds on a wire, backs to us, warily look over their shoulders.  Scattering then reforming loosely in a line perpendicular to the first, heads continue to glance sideways, scanning the environment.  They regroup, huddling, before opening their bodies outward following the swing of their flex footed legs. Bouncing vertically on easy springlike feet or spiraling after a carving wrist, each dancer has their own distinct gestures and cadences. 


The Taube is neoclassical in its own right.  Monumental neutral grey fabric walls are surrounded by elements of classical architecture including vaulting arched coves in the corners, and substantial carved-stonework cornices. The room, once SFMOMA’s sculpture court, now renovated as part of the Wilsey Center for Opera, has acoustics ideal for classical music. Unfortunately, the visual design, spare as it is, gets lost in this space. Lighting Designer Jack Carpenter creates a world of atmospheric depth with horizontal lines of pastels or vivid blue playing across the rear wall, but the setting resists the directional sidelight with which he strikingly created dawn and dusk previously in the Dresher black box space. 


The diaphanous silk and satin tunics from fly through the night, in subdued tones of taupe, lavender, olive and blue, appear in both dances (Costumes Sandra Woodall).  Round-necked and sleeveless, each features an overlapping split-back detail, which cleverly emulates how a resting bird’s wings lay.  With the audience viewing the dance from above, in steeply racked auditorium seating, the dull pallet is too easily absorbed by the grey floor.  A revisiting of costume color might have benefited this expanded remount.


Review by Jen Norris, published April 8, 2024

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Credits:

Nancy Karp + Dancers

2024 Performance Season

Taube Atrium Theater | San Francisco, CA 

April 6 & 7 ,2024

Choreography Nancy Karp

Music Samuel Adams, David A. Jaffe

Production Design Jack Carpenter

Costume Design Sandra Woodall

Dancers Rachel Garcia Sonsherée Giles Anna Greenberg Gold Amy Lewis Nol Simonse Calvin L. Thomas, Jr. Elizabeth Zepeda

Musicians Friction Quartet with guest musicians Haruka Fujii and David A. Jaffe

Eppur si muove, World Premiere

Dancers Rachel Garcia, Sonsherée Giles Anna Greenberg Gold, Amy Lewis Nol Simonse, Elizabeth Zepeda

Music Samuel Adams, Sundial

Musicians Friction Quartet

Otis Harriel, violin

Kevin Rogers, violin

Mitso Floor, viola

Doug Machiz, cello

with Haruka Fujii, percussion

Brief pause

fly through the night, and land near dawn, 2022 (revised 2024)

Dancers Sonsherée Giles, Anna Greenberg Gold, Amy Lewis, Nol Simonse, Calvin L. Thomas, Jr., Elizabeth Zepeda

Music David A. Jaffe

Part 1: Fox Hollow

Part 2: String Quartet for 2 Instruments

Part 3: fly through the night, and land near dawn*

*commissioned by New Arts Foundation/Nancy Karp + Dancers

Musicians

Friction Quartet

Otis Harriel, violin

Kevin Rogers, violin

Mitso Floor, viola

Doug Machiz, cello

with David A. Jaffe, mandolin and mandocello


Sunday, April 7, post performance talkback with Nancy Karp and composers Samuel Adams and David A. Jaffe moderated by Charles Amirkhanian, Artistic & Executive Director of Other Minds

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