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Illustration by Jessica Caisse.

ODC/Dance’s Summer Sampler Brings The Heat To Foggy San Francisco

Sima Belmar

ODC and I were both born in 1971. For my 50th birthday, I had a Zoom party. ODC decided to wait to celebrate until we could gather again in person. It seems the full house on opening night would agree that Summer Sampler was worth waiting for.

The evening opened with an inspired ensemble: Joseph Copley, ODC Associate Director of Artistic Planning, in a red tuxedo jacket, black shorts, and pointy black mules. But, of course, the most inspiring thing about the evening were the dancers. Throughout the program they were articulate, precise, passionate, daring, focused, committed, beautiful.

First on the program, Kimi Okada’s fantastic “Two if by Sea” (2014). Danced by Rachel Furst and Ryan Rouland Smith with dexterity and delight, “Two if by Sea” is a multi-genre work that weaves tap, social, folk, ballet, and modern dance forms. Like a multicolored braid, each dance form is visible, recognizable, and paid vivacious homage. Furst and Rouland Smith are dressed in period costumes (though the title gestures toward Paul Revere, the costumes look closer to 1944 than 1775). Throughout the dance, the duo engages in intricate gestural communication. Whether they are tapping out a rhythm with their feet, canoodling side by side (this really tickled an audience member in the back row), flexing their wrists at each other, or bouncing like boxers, they communicate with a gorgeous specificity. They match the texture of Teiji Ito’s and Steve Reich’s music without devolving into deferential musicality. Stunning.

Dexandro Montalvo’s “Impulse” (2014) is a thumping, pumping, put-a-diva-in-front-of-that-werk quartet danced with ferocity by Mia J. Chong, Cora Cliburn, Allie Papazian, and Miche Wong. In nude jog bras and black leggings, the dancers strike sharp poses against a backdrop of car-jumping bass. Chests pump, pelvises gyrate, rib cages rock. Attitude turns spiral out of deconstructed voguing vibes. If I had to choose one word to describe “Impulse,” I’d go with thrusty.

Brandon “Private” Freeman in “Going Solo.” Photo by Andrew Weeks.

It is always a pleasure to see Brandon “Private” Freeman step onto the stage. He joined ODC in 1996 (when I first saw him perform) and “Going Solo” (2016), co-choreographed with KT Nelson, was made in honor of his return to the company after a seven-year hiatus. The solo showcases what I’ve long believed: dancers get better with age. In the first part of the dance, Freeman seems to be awakening to his own body. He attends to his wrists, investigates his shoulders, explores his head and tail. Later, he runs in place, emphasizing height rather than speed. While he runs, he slowly rotates 360 degrees. It is mesmerizing. But, then again, I could watch him sew or sip tea. At the end of the dance, he spills water all over the stage, creating a sort of slip-n-slide. He launches himself onto every possible surface of his body: knees, hands, feet, upper back. It’s funny and it’s fun.

After intermission, Freeman returned with Furst to perform Amy Seiwert’s “Veronica and Vincent” (2011). Period costumes are back (50s? I really need to brush up on my fashion history) — Furst in a floral dress and Freeman in a sweater vest over a short-sleeve button down shirt. Set to a recording by Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) that features Americana music and an elderly woman, Veronica, talking about her deceased husband, Vincent (and not in a particularly flattering light), the dance is mainly Freeman lifting and lowering Furst. It was difficult for me to listen to Veronica’s tale of disappointment and regret and not see the dance as an enactment of emotional abuse. Perhaps it is the moment we’re living in, but I found it particularly challenging to see a female dancer seemingly choreographed out of her power.

ODC/Dance in “Unintended Consequences” (2014). Photo by Andrew Weeks.

The final work of the evening was Brenda Way’s “Unintended Consequences (A Meditation)” (2008), which opens with two columns of blinding light (lighting/set design by Alexander V. Nichols). Laurie Anderson’s “Gravity’s Angel” (“You can dance. You can make me laugh.”) and “O Superman” (“O Superman. O mom and dad.”), and “Big Science” (“It’s cold outside. Don’t forget your mittens.”) create a metronomic dystopia. All of the dancers shine in this work; they perform interpersonal dysfunction united in their technical prowess. It’s a pleasure to move from a focus on an individual dancer to a pulled back view of the choreographic structures at play. I was particularly moved by a duet between Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Allie Papazian, and I was delighted by the ending that sets six dancers in unison against a solo for Simon Schuh.

Summer Sampler offered a vision of ODC’s past and a taste of what’s to come.

Sima Belmar is the creator and host of the ODC podcast Dance Cast and a lecturer in the Department of Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.



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