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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: ODC Dance Downtown Programs A & B March 29-April 2, 2023, Blue Shield Theater, YBCA, SF

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

ODC/Dance (ODC) is a force to be reckoned with artistically and institutionally. Five weeks ago, these eleven dancers were performing the epic evening-length Path of Miracles at Grace Cathedral. This week they return to the Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA for Dance Downtown with five more dazzling, enigmatic contemporary dance works spread out over two programs.


ODC/Dance full company in world premiere of Amy Seiwert's Witness; Photo Robbie Sweeny


As I watch their Founder and Artistic Director, Brenda Way, make her precurtain welcome, I reflect on fifty-plus year’s history in San Francisco. ODC is the first modern dance company in the country to own a building. A women-lead organization, ODC has educated generations of dancers, at all ages and all levels, from recreational to professional.


With an ambitious vision and a growth mindset, ODC provides not only for their company, but for others as they continue to invest in infrastructure and expand resource-sharing programs. Through the years ODC has advanced the careers of countless arts workers and enriched our community.


A sense of abundance underscores the bold physicality of the Dance Downtown 2023 offerings. A more committed group of dancers would be difficult to find. As they perform feats of strength, endurance and flexibility there is a one-for-all, all-for-one ethos. Throughout the programs, individual dancers perform beautiful transporting solos, but it is in the duets and trios that we feel the familial interdependence and mutual appreciation they have for each other. Watching them throw and catch each other, mold around another or flick a sassy toe towards a partner, one feels less alone, as if the world may be alright if we can continue to show up for and trust in one another.


Amy Seiwert’s Witness, a premiere which opens Program A, is visually striking. In floor-length red skirts, which evoke monks’ robes or martial arts pants, ten dancers stand in prayer. Their forearms meet in front of their chests, their bladed-hands mask their faces. Costume Designer Jamielyn Duggan has crafted a sublime torso treatment using transparent mesh. When the dancers face us, they are regal, their chests embellished with a diamond-shaped crest. But as they turn away we see their vulnerable naked backs.

These dancers do more than bear witness, they bear the brunt of emotions that follow.


When an individual is in crisis, be it panicked or catatonic, others come to the rescue. A dancer freezes, arms and legs bent as if in mid-sprint; the ensemble answers by carrying them above their heads their angular limbs floating above the fray. Those lying in a fetal position are restoratively wrapped in the body of another.


Way’s Something About a Nightingale (2005), a playful quintet, is performed to country-music influenced tunes by Tin Hat Trio. It provides palate-cleansing levity, showcasing the versatility of performers Brandon “Private” Freeman, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Rachel Furst, Allie Papazian, and Jaime Garcia Castilla with its comic timing.


Bay-Area based choreographer Dexandro Montalvo’s gripping Impulse

(2014), a quartet for four fierce women, leads off Program B. In linear formation with their slanting torsos and jutting knees, Allie Papazian, Miche Wong, Cora Cliburn and Jenna Marie capture us from the opening tableau and take us on a fifteen-minute thrill-ride.


Way’s Collision, Collapse and a Coda Dance Downtown’s second premiere follows. Newly made with and for these specific dancers, the juicy bits and pairings feel fresh and urgent, creating a can’t look away show-stopper. Originally called Headline Abuse, it is a response to the 24/7 news cycle that emphasizes, amplifies and manufactures perpetual disaster.

It is a fight or flee world. A mass of hunched bodies quivers in Alexander V. Nichols’s foggy blue light. Random heads rise, peeking above the crowd to assess the danger. The group flees leaving Freeman running in place, his powerful whipping arms ineffective at propelling him to safety.

From left Jenna Marie, Brandon Private Freeman, Cora Cliburn, Miche Wong, Jaime Garcia Castilla and Rachel Furst in Collision Collapse and a Coda. Photo Robbie Sweeny


Individuals seek escape, launching off each other, slapping and kicking, only to be caught and dragged back into the commotion. Slipping through the arms of their partners, a group army-crawls off the stage, co-combatants. Feet are flexed, lifts are upside down. Contorted, this world is not made for human comfort; and still they persist.


A change is in the air as the contemporary compositions of David Lang, Gwely Mernans, and Jay Cloidt yield to Chopin’s romantic-era classical piano. Ivory diaphanous tops, flowing pants or skirts, replace the harsh-white button-down shirts of the previous sections.


The final third of the piece is a series of duets. Each illustrates the grace we may find with our partners, those that know when to clutch us to their chests, spin us through space and catch us when we fall. The trust in same-sex pairing of Jaime Garcia Castilla and Christian Squires contained a sustaining poignancy for me.


ODC/Dance full company in world premiere of Amy Seiwert's Witness; Photo Robbie Sweeny


Each program concludes with Way, Nelson & Weare’s Triangulating Euclid (2013), a ferocious tour-de-force that ODC/Dance has toured extensively. The dancers own this piece. Miche Wong is magnetic, embodying the words of Art Conservator Karen Zukor recounting the wonder of restoring a 1482 edition of Euclid’s “Elements of Geometry.” Papazian and Freeman’s relationship is complicated. She struggles against him, seemingly succumbing before flinging him away with a disdainful backward glance. Scooting backward on his bottom, he pursues her in the most nonthreatening way. As his back meets her standing legs she melts backward joining him once more. Rachel Furst is twitchy and witchy in her personal mad scene.


Euclid is definitely worth repeat viewings. Offering it on both programs allows one the satisfying experience of a deeper dive in which new wonders are revealed.

Review by Jen Norris, published March 31, 2023

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Credits

PROGRAM A

Thursday, March 30 and Saturday, April 1, 2023

Witness (WORLD PREMIERE)

For Cindy Choreographed by Amy Seiwert

Rehearsal Assistant: Rachel Furst

Lighting Design by Alexander V. Nichols

Costume Design by Jamielyn Duggan

Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir, Anna Clyne and Jody Redhage, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Ezio Bosso

Dancers: Brandon “Private” Freeman, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Allie Papazian, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Miche Wong, Christian Squires, Cora Cliburn, Ryan Rouland Smith, Jenna Marie, Colton Wall

Something About a Nightingale (2005)

Choreographed by Brenda Way

Lighting Design by Alexander V. Nichols

Costume Design by Cassandra Carpenter

Music: Tin Hat Trio, Ethel

Dancers: Brandon “Private” Freeman, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Rachel Furst, Allie Papazian, Jaime Garcia Castilla

Triangulating Euclid (2013)

Choreographed by Brenda Way, KT Nelson & Kate Weare

Text by Karen Zukor - Art Conservator

Lighting and Scenic Design by Matthew Antaky

Costume Design by Brenda Way and Lisa Claybough

Music: Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Franz Schubert (Vocals by Ian Bostridge and Renée Fleming)

Dancers: Full Company*

*Solo: Miche Wong Duets: Ryan Rouland Smith and Miche Wong, Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Cora Cliburn, “Private” Freeman and Allie Papazian Solo: Rachel Furst

PROGRAM B

Impulse (2014)

Choreographed by Dexandro Montalvo

Lighting Design by Jack Beuttler

Costume Design by Kyo Yohena

Music: Someone Else & Miskate

Dancers: Allie Papazian, Miche Wong, Cora Cliburn, Jenna

Collision, Collapse and a Coda (WORLD PREMIERE)

Choreographed by Brenda Way

Lighting Design by Alexander V. Nichols

Sound Design by Jay Cloidt

Music: David Lang, Gwely Mernans, Jay Cloidt, Frédéric Chopin

Dancers: Full Company

Triangulating Euclid (2013) appears on both programs, see above.


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