What an amazing company! Not sure why Yerba Buena Center’s Novellus Theater wasn’t full. This was as interesting as anything going on in dance right now in the Bay Area and possibly beyond.
My favorite piece was the first: The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things, set to a hypnotic synth score that changed midway-through into heavy cinematic music (think ’60’s era Bond). The choreography didn’t quite look like anything I’ve seen, way more casual and genderless than ballet, fiercer and more “street” than a lot of modern dance, yet sharper, more taut and with a higher center of gravity than street. It conveyed a generalized aggro that was sort of scary and fascinating, and at times, beautiful. I don’t know what it had to do with the title, but wonder if the women’s costumes in different shades of labial pink and the men’s blueball-colored pants signified anything (besides my own dirty imagination).
Also excellent was “Speaking Ill of the Dead”: It was less powerful at the beginning, when it seemed the dancers were portraying war itself, or soldiers, or something–pumping their fists, staring fearsomely, marching heavily in their bare feet and acting generally tough (but looking more like lithe modern dancers attempting to look tough). Though it began by depicting what looked like some outsider’s idea of war, it seemed to morph into a portrayal of the effects of war on people left behind. Dancers flailed their arms and threw themselves on each other, tumbled over each other’s bodies, and struck themselves as a monotone voiceover chanted official condolences for the loss of life. These eventually became condolences for the loss of dignity, of country, and of the future. The flailing about onstage seemed like a physicalization 0f the guilt and confusion of a country that only realized in retrospect the horror it had allowed itself to get into once it was too late to turn back, and the damage was done, both to human life and to the morale of those witness.
“Biography” was also interesting, and I have no idea how the dancers kept time; the “score” was actually a recorded roundtable discussion with James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Emile Capouya, and Alfred Kazin, on black perceptions of the American setting in art. I admit I didn’t perceive the connection between most of the movement and the words that formed the soundtrack (except for one moment when Baldwin (I think?) remarked on the “black man” as being a “corpse”-like presence in American art and literature regardless of whether the subject matter dealt with the black experience or not. Here two of the male dancers, arms outstretched and curved like wings, nuzzled the necks of two other dancers lying prone on the floor, in what looked like a tableau of vultures scavenging the meat off dead bodies). The discussion itself included ruminations on art and commerce as well as art and race in a manner that could probably be repeated word for word today and be just as relevant. And have you ever heard Lorraine Hansberry’s voice? She speaks like a queen, and her crisp consonants, softened (but not British) “r”s and liquid vowels made me feel like a valley slob with a bloated tongue.
Anyway, next time Robert Moses’ Kin performs GO SEE THEM. I’ll be there!