San Francisco, California

The West Wave Dance Festival 2008 showcased the work of more than 45 Bay Area dance and digital media artists, Aug. 16-24. Dancers’ Group and DanceArt presented the 17th annual event in partnership with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

The curated festival divided participants into three programs (waves) of dancemakers for live stage performances and one for performances on film. Each live program featured the work of a dozen choreographers and was presented twice over four evenings at Yerba Buena’s Novellus Theater. Choreographers were challenged to create segments of at least 4 minutes, 32 seconds, and no more than 5 minutes.

DanceWave 2, which closed the festival on Friday evening, Aug. 22, presented many interesting and striking images but little of lasting consequence. With a couple exceptions, major choreographic voices do not appear to be emerging from this group.

Kara Davis, who involves her dancers in her creative process, excelled at showing how much material can be presented in 4-1/2 minutes – and how well – with one Tuesday afternoon…, set to sound by Gustavo Santaoalla. Although her performing and teaching background is primarily in ballet, this work had a distinctly contemporary coloring. Danced beautifully by David Harvey, Daniel Howerton, Alex Jenkins, Nick Korkos, Erin Kraemer, Adam Peterson, Alicia Pugh, Sierra Stockton, Dinah Walker, Sarah Wenzel, and Jenna Wozer, one Tuesday afternoon… was the most cohesive, complete, and satisfying part of the program.

In My Shoes, the evening’s one aerial work, the feet of choreographer and solo performer Alayna Stroud spent more time on the floor, stepping out of and into shoes, than they did either in the air or wrapped around a vertical, silver pole apparatus. The music, engineered by Austin Donohue, was too loud.

The dancers lifted Robert Sund’s neoclassical offering, Our steps will always rhyme, beyond a pastiche of boring ballet cliches. Robin Cornwell and Olivia Ramsay provided en pointe window dressing for Ryan Camou in his bravura and emotional opening solo. He then served as engaged audience to their elegantly-danced duet. Both segments were performed to sound by Leonard Cohen. Minnesota’s dance scene would be well-served by a male dancer of Camou’s prowess, particularly if he was given regular opportunities to soar.

Gorgeous, green and orange costumes adorned seven dancers who performed with bright smiles but limited conviction in Vakratunda Mahakaya, a spiritual prayer in the Odissi style of Indian dance. Ratikant Mohapatra choreographed the work to music by bansuri artist Hariprasad Chaurasia. The dance was performed by Shradha Chowdhury, Akanksha Kejriwal, Rasika Kumar, Niharika Mohanty, Vasanta Rao, Divya Saha, and Lavanya Viswanathan. Bronx cheers for the gall of Audience Member A, who twice snapped flash photos with a cell phone during the performance; bravos for the gutsy, Audience Member B who stood up and told A to stop.

Long, sheer, and white head scarves and skirts lent a visually pleasing presence to There, a trio choreographed by Wan-Chao Chang to “Form 3” by Greg Ellis. Wan-Chao was joined in the performance by Hannah Romanowsky and Kris Sague.

A six-foot-high wagon wheel, harnessed to a dancer’s lower back by an eight-foot-long axle, served as the primary prop of the Cocktail Hour, a cute diversion by Cynthia Adams and Ken James, with sound by Marimba Chapinlandia. Early on, dancers balanced empty martini glasses while ducking beneath the slowly rotating axle. Later, James and a woman removed, exchanged, and donned each other’s black shirt and pants (his) and red dress (hers) while ducking the axle. Later still, a dancer pushed a vacuum cleaner from stage right to stage left. Pick your own choreographic metaphor(s). The performers – in addition to Adams and James, Fiona McCann, Shawn Oda, Kimm E. Ward, and Andrea Weber – also are known as the Fellow Travelers Performance Group.

The artist statement that Christy Funsch provided to the Dancers’ Group newsletter about her solo work, Dapper Indiscretion Blues, was either incoherent or clear as mud. Either way, it aptly described her choreography and supports my preference to view more of her apparent strengths as a modern performer.

The dancing by Natalie Greene, Elizabeth Morales, and Wendy Rein in Deborah Slater‘s Gone in 5 was not so good, but the portions that did not partner with props (a table and three chairs of varying heights) were stronger and more interesting than those that did.

Carolena Nericcio and the other performers of her FatChanceBellyDance – Kristine Adams, Wendy Allen, Sandi Ball, Anita Lalwani, and Marsha Poulin – used a process of improvisation that left their performance of Lifting the Mist of Illusion lacking in focus. Including more structure in their work might make their dancing more compelling and at least as interesting as their multi-hued costumes and sparkling jewelry.

May bird poop someday crown the head of Audience Member C who took a flash photo during the FatChanceBellyDance performance. This is not mere contempt on my part. A pre-performance announcement stated that the practice was strictly prohibited. Furthermore, unexpected flashes can be dangerous for performers. Plus, one’s ticket purchase entitles the holder to view a live performance and to carry away whatever sensations and memories one will. It does not sanction the theft of intellectual property in the form of choreography; costume, set, and light design; or music. Finally, it is just plain rude, crude, and socially unacceptable to interfere in this manner with the experience of other audience members.

The original and live cello, violin, and guitar music by Andy Eggleston, Fay Ferency, and Matthew Herz was, far and away, the best part of How many presents/balls/ chips/scarves/books/hearts/circles can you wrap/catch/win/throw/ read/ cut out/make in four minutes thirty two seconds? The work, choreographed by Amy Lewis, featured more than 30 performers and should have been titled How much crap can you cram on stage in 4-1/2? Lots!

Micaya had a fun hip hop concept for To the Rear…March, set to music by DJ ACL. The performers, Stavroula Arabatgis, Daniel Derrick, Kim Dokes, Natalia Hellems, Meegan Hertensteiner, Clyde Lachica, Brandy Logue, Stephanie Lynn, Fumihiko Nishimura, and Christina Paoli, dived in and gave new meaning to “shake your bootie!”

Reuniting a host of characters in the aftermath of Pele’s wrath might seem a daunting challenge for a five-minute segment, but it is one that Kumu Hula Kawika Alfiche pulled off reasonably well in Hi’iakaikapoli’opele. The choreographer and his students provided their own song and drum accompaniment to their dancing. This was my first exposure to Hawaiian dance in a concert setting; I would like to see more.

The opportunity to sample so much dance in a concentrated period is rare. The organizers, choreographers, performers, and funders deserve applause for making the effort. However, that the 757-seat Novellus Theater was not half full on the fourth and final night of the West Wave Dance Festival suggests that the enterprise may need more tweaking, with particular examination of scheduling, curating, pricing ($25), and location.

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