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Dawson Dance SF's les vérités Long on Dancer Skill but Short on Choreographic Magic

by Joanna G. Harris
January 29, 2017
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
415.978.ARTS (2787)
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Gregory Dawson's dawsondancesf (ddsf) attracts an enthusiastic audience who whoop and cheer in appreciation of the eight attractive men and women who are his San Francisco-based company.

Dawson’s notes for the program les vérités (the truths), on January 27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts announce that
dawnsondancesf aims "to break down the barriers placed on classical ballet, bringing to light the strength and beauty that artists possess within themselves." As such, Dawson is not listed as choreographer. It is not clear, but it appears that some of the works involved collaboration or invention by the dancers themselves.

Isaiah Bindel was the primary soloist. He and the company started the show with “Out of the Cave,” a piece that costumed the dancers in fascinating headpieces and featured a range of dance movement that concentrated on floor bound activity including creeping, crawling and rolling. There was a tribal overtone that was evoked and that continued in “The Crossing” and “Passage,” the next works. This tone was followed by a shift in energy and music score, as male dancers (in trunks and bare chests) dominated the stage for “Piano in the Field,” “The Groove,” and then full company works “Shaken by the Beat,” and “The Reveal.”

The music for the works was composed by Ron Kurti and wonderfully played by a group called “Classical Revolution.”

After intermission, graced by an upstage solo by Frankie Lee Peterson, the program continued. The girls donned pointe shoes and pas de deux selections permeated some of the next numbers. Although there were occasional upstage crosses by the company wearing the masks and cloth used earlier in the show, there no further use of this costuming. The lighting by Jack Beutler was very dark throughout. It made all of the upstage activity very difficult to see.

The primary problem, for this reviewer, is that the movement was endlessly repetitious; the rhythms for the dancers remained the same (mostly slow and at the same tempi) although the music rhythms changed. Also, there was no contrast or counterpoint in spatial design or group movement.

When the women are in pointe shoes and demonstrate the extensions, arabesques, developés, and other standard gestures of the ballet, it feels very odd and out of style that they are partnered by men who seem to have no role but to support them. The men disappeared behind the complexity and technical demands of the ballerina. Dawson seems to want to challenge the classical ballet vocabulary. Yet he uses the most standard form audiences see as ballet, the female acrobat partnered by a man whose value is to provide her balance. Also, throughout the performance the dancers seemed to keep focus down; therefore limiting contact and projection to the audience.

dawsondancesf is made up of extraordinarily skilled dancers whose work becomes almost gymnastic in execution. They are wonderful to watch. Now if the choreography would expand and be varied in expression, dawsondancesf would achieve the goals the director has set forth.

Company members are: Ilaria Guerra, Isaiah Bindel, DJ Duncan, Jordan Drew, Madison Otto, Cameron Labater, Erik Debono and Frankie Lee Peterson.

Photo © & courtesy of Devi Pride Photography

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