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Flash Review 1, 3-14: California Dreamy
West Coast Swinging from ODC

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

After last night's concert at the Joyce Theater, I now have solid proof that there is intelligent life in the dance universe beyond New York City and it apparently centers around ODC/San Francisco. And, in celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year, ODC has been that center for longer than some of you Dance Insiders have been alive. In fact, I was just getting on my first school bus when artistic director Brenda Way, co-artistic director KT Nelson and associate choreographer Kimi Okada, along with 13 other artists loaded up their big yellow bus and relocated the Oberlin Dance Collective to San Francisco.

If ODC/San Francisco is "downtown modern dance with a West Coast flavor," as it was recently described to me, I was left after KT Nelson's vibrant "They've Lost Their Footing" wondering if I should rethink my coastal allegiance. ODC has been proving for decades what many artists are still discovering: Great dance can happen anywhere. Okay, maybe not anywhere, but it doesn't always have to be New York. As seen in last night's opening, these out-of-towners were a refreshing return to the U.S. modern dance scene for me after several weeks trying to spy just a glimpse of contemporary dance performance in Vietnam. ODC's wit and vitality is refreshingly American, its dances vigorous and its dancers robust. While its performers are all excellent technicians, the company's true charm lies in the dancers' thoroughly unassuming manner. The choreography is often highly physical, with intricate partnering sequences flying into and out of demanding phrases. But none of this is performed with the kind of overdone "Ta-dah!" or self-congratulatory smugness that certain other unnamed "world-class" companies employ.

Nelson's "They've Lost Their Footing" is lead by a powerful Khamla Somphanh and a luscious Felipe Sacon, but the work offers up fantastic dancing from everyone. The women, Tammy Cheney, Monique Strauss, Jennifer Golden and Yukie Fujimoto are strong and the men, Private Freeman, Brian Fisher and Levi Toney are articulate. Attraction is a powerful tool in the effort to win over admirers in any game. With qualities like this, strong females and articulate men, ODC is an entire company to fall in love with.

In Way's "Hugging the Shore," Fisher, Freeman, Sacon, Toney and Silfredo La O Vigo are shadowed by a mysterious woman, portrayed last night by Fujimoto. The dancing is still athletic here, though often tempered by moments of tenderness. Certain sequences have obvious individual stamps on them and some moments look like an unedited jam session moved directly from studio to stage. The darkness of the work and the pacing begin to put me into a kind of trance or zone. It feels like I'm watching the inside of my head after a smoked-up all-nighter with my sound designer. Ya know, kinda numb-n- tingly... the-bulb's-still-on-but-it's-definitely-dimming. When I find out later that the work is a look at the pull of death, I think that wouldn't be such a bad way to go, except for Fujimoto's unkempt, snaring solo. She rips through the space around her like a final, desperate gasp.

Where "Hugging the Shore" seduces me into the darkness, Way's "Investigating Grace" is like being doused in light. The dancers are skilled enough to allow this beautiful work to become its own entity. They are too humanly real to be frolicking angels, but the dance itself gurgles and bounds like a divine revelation. The sweetness of the dance is all-natural, no saccharin here. The choreography bubbles, giggles, slides and dives, creating a dance so full of effusive love that the performers never need to telegraph happiness. In just performing Way's choreography they become a bridge to transcendence.

I recently got an email from a student about to graduate from New York University and unsure of whether she should stay in NYC or look elsewhere. Well... ODC was one of the first dance companies in the country to purchase its own facilities, it just received a grant to combat the dot-com-er crunch by expanding these facilities, it offers its dancers one of the longest annual contracts (plus benefits) in the country. And it is run by women! Hmmm... I may not have had math since high school calculus but I know what all that adds up to. So to my disheartened pen-pal or anyone else burning out on the Big Apple, I say, Go West! or at least dish out the dough and see ODC while its here. ODC continues through Friday at the Joyce. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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