Cowell Theatre, San Francisco, Saturday, July 17, 2010
Few choreographers can create plotless contemporary dance that engages the audience with movement and music alone; all too often, dancing for its own sake devolves into moody self-indulgence. More unusual is a young choreographer with the maturity and self-discipline to create sophisticated work that means something to him personally, yet is accessible and entertaining to viewers who have no knowledge of his inspiration.
That’s why Robert Dekkers and his new company, Post:Ballet, are much-needed in the Bay Area dance scene. Just 25 years old, the Atlanta Ballet–trained Dekkers is a veteran of Ballet Arizona, ODC/Dance and Company C Contemporary Ballet, and already has nine years of critically acclaimed choreography to his name. His promise was evident during Concert One, Post:Ballet’s two-night premiere at the Cowell Theatre.
Milieu opened amid atmospheric lighting that drifted through smoke-machine fog. As Daniel Berkman played his original score live on the gravikord (an electric metal harp that sounds curiously like a mandolin crossed with a kettle drum) and digital effects, all seven company dancers unfurled from the floor, stretching and reaching upward like newborn creatures. Utilizing the full width and depth of the stage, they merged and separated, stopped and slowed, and tumbled back down to the floor, with one dancer or the other periodically spinning off in a dynamic solo only to rejoin the group for movement in unison. Alessandra Ball and David Ligon broke away into a pas de deux that beautifully contrasted force and release. Between the raw movement, the swampy lighting and the costuming (the women in pale-green leotards and the men in burnt-orange shorts), the effect was primordial.
The mood changed considerably with B-Sides, a pas de deux performed by Jared Hunt and Christian Squires to a plaintive, operatic vocal recording by indie darlings Grizzly Bear. Like a Calder mobile in an unreliable breeze, the men leaned on one another, rolled together on the floor, segued into backwards balances, then burst into pirouettes en attitude. Sensuous and physical but far from languorous, they seemed driven by an unspoken emotional conflict, as though there were unanswered questions between them. Minimal costumes (green shorts and blue shorts, respectively) only highlighted the intimate contact between Hunt’s groundedness and Squires’s chiseled youth.
Beau Campbell, Ashley Flanner and Beth Kaczmarek took the stage for Flutter, which is divided into two halves by Steve Reich’s energetic clapping soundtrack and J.S. Bach’s mournful Partita for Solo Violin. Dancing largely in unison and wearing dark-gray Grecian tunics over black shorts, they called to mind the Three Graces as they swooped from rondes de jambes on the floor to rhythmic turning accented by hand and arm inflections that hinted at Indian dance. Inventive bourrees—on bent legs, even on the knees—winked at classical ballet and added a fluttering effect. Dekkers says that Flutter is about society’s insistence on conformity, and though each dancer attempts to separate from the group, she is ultimately reeled back in.
The entire company reconvened for The Happiness of Pursuit, a world-premiere collaboration between Dekkers and San Francisco composer Jacob Wolkenhauer, who performed the guitar-based score live with Joe Hickey. The soundtrack ranged from dynamic to moody, prompting movement that alternated between dropping and rolling and joyous leaping. The performers interwove in every possible combination, from full ensemble to solos—and was that a smile on Ligon’s face during his fleet-footed solo? It was a welcome ray of sunshine during an evening of intense dance. Ball donned the only pointe shoes of the night for a dynamic, beautifully synchronized pas de deux with Squires, though he seemed a bit overmatched by her height and momentum.
Dekkers’s choice of music is superb: edgy enough to keep you listening, yet harmonious enough to make listening a pleasure. However, a bit more variety of vocabulary—whether in the steps, costuming or lighting—would add even more surprises and ensure lively pacing. In some pieces, particularly Milieu, a lack of unison lessened the impact.
All of Dekkers’s dancers have classical ballet training, which was evident in their lines. Yet, unlike many ballet dancers, they can turn on the loose, down-to-the-ground movement required for contemporary work and Dekkers’s inventive interpretations. The women are especially well chosen; their similarity in proportions, strength and technique—even their hair is the same below-the-shoulders length—results in a visual consistency that pleases the eye and never distracts from the dance.
The audience granted Post:Ballet a standing ovation, which is to be expected at a company’s debut, when the seats are filled with friends, family and other ringers. But the applause was well earned—a talented new voice deserves a warm welcome. Dekkers has faced down the challenge of starting a new dance company; now his task is to continue challenging his creativity. He is up to it.
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