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West Wave Dance Festival: Shores Of Talent

September 16, 2013

Grrl BrigadeIt was touch-and-go, said a program note from Joe Landini, whether or not the 22nd annual West Wave Dance Festival, which opened at Z Space Monday night, would come off. Landini, executive director of the performing arts incubator SAFEhouse for the Arts (Saving Art from Extinction), and festival curator, succeeded in gathering last-minute aid from NEA and San Francisco Grants for the Arts. This year’s fest comes in four parts. Chrissy Keefer, director of the Dance Mission Theater and a seminal figure in feminist dance, curated Monday’s opener, “The Beat of 24th and Mission,” a diverse range of 11 San Francisco troupes, emceed by Stella Adelman, Dance Mission Theater’s program manager.

And range it did. The all-woman Dance Brigade launched the evening with exultantly powerful taiko drumming in the lobby, leading the audience into the theater. Keefer’s youth program, Grrl Brigade, danced out the plight of the American Indian and did it beautifully, with well-composed floorwork and dramatic partnering that was more effective than the accompanying, somewhat purple script.

West WaveChoreographer Anna Sullivan’s Anna and the Androids, two dancers in white, faces to tutus, followed. In Joy Toy, the herky-jerky duo, Pierrot-Gaga twins on speed, accompanied by a screechy electronic score, performed prodigious lifts and balances, seasoned with a certain poignant lyricism.

Nicole Klaymoon’s Embodiment Project’s large-scale street dance was thoroughly amazing for speed charm and exuberance. There was hip-hop, b-boying, locking, and oh, everything you most want to see, including those fantastic helicopter spins.

A trio of two men and a woman in red plaid pants and white shirts choreographed by Nol Simonse brought smooth vigor and an airborne grace to contemporary moves; another trio, three men from Ramon Rayos Alayo’s Alayo Dance Company, was compelling for the earthiness and daring of its floorwork.

Keefer’s Dance Brigade did an anti-war piece, where red string and flower petals stood for blood, contrasting with their white gowns. “There are great puddles of blood on the world,” went one line of the chant, soon accompanied by a dirge of hammering broomhandles. The brooms were wielded to sweep the petals off the dance floor.

The program was nicely paced, with broom and doom offset by cheer, like the wonderful Bhangra dance from the women of Joti Singh’s Duniya Dance and Drum Company, in flowing blue saris. Bhangra, traditionally an Indian harvest dance, is filled with smiles, kicks, cantering leaps, and joyful carriage with arms upraised. Cuba’s traditional folk styles were also a charming part of the show, thanks to Susana Arenas and her Arenas Dance Company.

Sean Dorsey choreographed The Secret History of Love for his eponymous company. It’s part of a national LGBT Elders Oral History Project. Just as gayness has come out of the closet, male-to-male partnering is no longer very unusual, but it is rare to see any partnering with the degree of nuance and sensitivity that Dorsey’s quartet put forth. Among them was Juan de la Rosa, whose solo works are equally insightful, plus funny, when it comes to dancing out the dilemmas of finding true romance.

Hip-hop capped the off the night, with the street-savvy teens of Alan Frias’ Mind Over Matter doing the honors in fine form.

Four new commissions highlight the next program, Oct. 5 at ODC Commons. Back at Z Space, five pairs of dance artists, chosen by Jesse Hewit, make up the Oct. 21 outing, while choreographer Amy Seiwert takes charge of the all-contemporary-ballet Oct. 28 show.

Janice Berman was an editor and senior writer at New York Newsday. She is a former editor in chief of Dance Magazine.

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