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Summerfest/Dance '97.


The Bay Area dance scene has baffled, often heroically, a decade-long bout of depression that deepened six years ago when Dance Bay Area, the local support organization, went bankrupt. Defeat was in the air, and nobody was handing out Prozac.

The indefatigable persevered. Dancers' Group/Footwork remained one of the brightest beacons of innovation. San Francisco Ballet, with its stable of brilliant dancers and its financial well-being, became a magnet for talent and hope. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts pulled modern dance out of the neighborhoods and placed it closer to business and tourism in downtown San Francisco. And Brady Street Dance Center, a ballet studio that is part of the downtown trend, became a performance venue run by the unstoppable renegade Krissy Keefer (formerly of Dance Brigade).

Independent choreographer Cathleen McCarthy, who founded Summerfest six years ago and now directs it with Gail Chodera, was inspired to move the event to Brady Street. This year, the hip, the new, and the experimental were within shouting distance of the conservative and the moneyed. It was an inspired decision. The excitement at the four Summerfest concerts I attended (there were six in all) was palpable; the depression had lifted and a community had once again coalesced.

Like most anthology programs, Summerfest is a grab bag. While the quality of presentation was uniformly high, thanks in large measure to the technical expertise of Joe Williams and Matthew DeGumbia, the dancemaking ranged from the green clunkiness of classroom work to luminous sophistication. Most of the work hovered in the middle, sprouting an inspiration here, a beautiful phrase there, occasionally even nearing great depths although unable to sustain them.

Randee Paufve's 99 acres, co-choreographed with Beth Harris, and Caryatid, co-choreographed with Nina Haft, are molten sculptures whose forms materialize then dissolve with every new phrase, leaving behind a memory of great organic beauty. A solo with music by Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O'Connor, 99 acres proves that dance invention is no more dead than history is, and that choreographers can still draw from other cultures and alter the expectations and perceptions of their own tradition.

Consider, for example, the Indian and Indonesian traditions of hand movements that Paufve uses. Rather than applying them decoratively, as many Western choreographers do, she gives them tangible agency, as though channeling her intelligence into her arms as they become birdlike or aqueous. They are no longer arms attempting to resemble birds; the movement achieves some essence of avian life or of water. Paufve's musicality also exists at this high level. Individual phrasing and the cumulative meaning of phrases are both surprising, and almost seamless.

Annie Rosenthal's Move One Face was at the other aesthetic extreme. Dancers Melinda Foster, Jessica Leonard, Stacey Printz, Rebecca Young, and Rosenthal are technical powerhouses, but excerpts from the aerobics-inspired and musically leaden choreography evaporate like calisthenics. By contrast Mary Reid's Overload has the ironic delicacy of a William Steig cartoon, spoofing the exhausting regimes of modern moms with simple invention and clever spatial design.

Sue Li-Jue's solo for the ancestral figure in her Facing East is an eloquent meditation on the elemental nature of rice, life cycles, hardship, and endurance, and Vivien Dai's performance was dramatically pliant and sculpted. The work as a whole, though, doesn't achieve the same beautiful completeness, although Li-Jue's ability to make emptiness inseparable from fullness, and so sufficiently vital that it defines and energizes matter, is a lovely gift that never leaves her.

Ark III Dance's Several in the Darkness is on the healing-arts end of the dance spectrum, but performer Kim Fowler's mellifluous voice and combined chutzpah and delicacy brought an irresistible dimension to a work that kept it from descending into purely confessional drama. Wearing a flowing caftan, she narrated a strange and moving story (which she also wrote) about multiple personalities. But the piece was weakened by the too-timid explication of the syndrome in choreography by Anadha Ray, and the overall effect was didactic rather than expressive.

If there was an overriding flaw in the festival, it was the timidity of the choreographers, many of whom seem trapped by the choreographic conventions of their mentors or of leading Bay Area dancemakers. Suzanne Gallo, who danced with ODC/San Francisco, has inherited Brenda Way's punched phrasing, which she's applied to pretty, feel-good dancing. Evangel King, despite her use of Joan Didion's glowing language on California, offered up a twenty-year-old dance, A Case of Geography, that misunderstood the clever, pared-down walking-talking dances of the era as being synonymous with text plus arm-and-leg movements.

But talent also filled the rafters of the hot warehouse on Brady Street. If the local dance scene has lately felt as if it had no "there" there, it seems revived, and it spans several generations mingling easily and excitedly together.
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Title Annotation:Brady Street Dance Center, San Francesco, CA
Author:Murphy, Ann
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Nov 1, 1997
Previous Article:Lab., Project Group-USA.
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