Paradise lost

Pub date October 26, 2010

DANCE Expanding like a landscape, the view into ODC’s theater from its narrow hallway entrance has become a theatrical experience. Passing through, you can’t help but be in a good mood. For the site’s official opening program, ODC Theater Director Rob Bailis invited two local choreographers of quite different temperament to create their own scenery. Planned or not, Yannis Adoniou and Ben Levy explored similar territories — the debt that each of them owes to his heritage as an artist and human being. Adoniou is of Greek and Levy of Jewish Persian descent. Neither lapsed into sentimentality; the two pieces were fierce and dark, and each connected like a powerful punch.

Adoniou based Kunst-Stoff’s Rebetiko on the underground music that Greek emigrants brought with them when they were forcefully expelled from Turkey in the early part of the 20th century. It’s a work in which haunting memories and contemporary pain flow through choreography that whimpers, rebels, and howls yet finishes on a note of peace, or at least resignation. At 45 minutes, Rebetiko is a stretch for its material. Nonetheless, it is perhaps Adoniou’s most integrated and finest work to date. Marina Fukushima, Chin-chin Hsu, Daniel Howerton, Daiane Lopes da Silva, and Julia Stiefel were the ferocious dancers; Catherine Clambanevea the excellent singer.

Adoniou plunges his refugees into a sea of darkness (fabulous lighting by Lisa Pinkham) and ominous city sounds (music and songs by Minos Matsas). They struggle, hide, escape, and survive — barely. Whips lash, ropes imprison, bodies are pulled to ground. Lopez da Silva whirls herself into a fury like a goddess of revenge and Howerton runs, hunted by invisible pursuers. Hsu seems stunned, frozen in deep plié or doubled over. Yet out of the darkness emerges a ray of hope, a tentative Greek folk dance duet for Howerton and Fukushima. Still, at the end he collapses — a man overcome, a culture destroyed.

Setting off the gloom is a luminous banner that spills onto the stage. Under Pinkham’s masterful lighting, it variously suggests turbulent memories, a place of safety, a paradise lost. It also pays fine tribute to rebetiko’s culture of shadow puppetry.

In Our Body Remembers, LEVYdance strips away the layers that have accumulated in our bodies, sending us back into an inchoate state of being. If I understood choreographer Levy correctly, he looks at this unspooling with a mix of trepidation, bemusement, and awe. Sarah Phykitt’s lighting and set divides the stage into various areas of activity, making fine use of ODC’s new space. Kardash (Marty Huerta and Murat Bayhan) create the aural landscape.

Initially Our Body uses an epigrammatic, quasi-narrative structure, out of which bursts an increasingly physical flood of energy that borders on the violent. Drawing turbulent emotion and motion from Persian dance’s curvy lines and gentle undulations seems like an act of foolish bravado. Yet Levy succeeds admirably. A charming dance for hands pays tribute to Middle Eastern and Asian traditions of using fingers as something more than the end of an arm.

The dancers (Aline Wachsmuth, Ali Schechter, Morgelyn Tenbeth Ward, and Bianca Cabrera) are credited with movement. Levy provides the direction and — no doubt — the drive. My one reservation about Our Body pertains to the writing scene in which Wachsmuth gives and denies written cues about her body’s function. It didn’t add enough to the piece’s thrust.

The tempest starts slowly. Little tremors shake these women as they pass snippets of paper — gossip? memory? — to Wachsmuth, who becomes increasingly agitated. Putting heels on the barefoot dancers, Our Body hits high gear, sending the dancers down the runway, primping and posing, but with a decidedly aggressive note. When they begin tearing clothes off of each other, this is no mere catfight. It’s anger, chaos, and violence at its most extreme, and it’s frightening. Finally, stripped down with feathery snowflakes falling on them, the dancers awaken into a dream state. I couldn’t decide whether Levy was sarcastic or lyrical.


Thurs/28–Sat/30, 8 p.m.; $15–$18

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., SF

(415) 863-9834