The ascendants

Pub date July 23, 2013

DANCE Though only in its fourth season, Robert Dekkers’ Post:Ballet has already gained an enthusiastic, impressively large following that has allowed the company to move from the Cowell to the Herbst to this year’s Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It’s easy to see the reason for Dekkers’ success.

While his dance making is clearly ballet-based, his works have an expansive sense of freedom that makes them welcoming and easy on the eye. By choosing to perform in the summer when other companies are on break, he can also work with highly trained professionals otherwise unavailable to a small (ten-person) ensemble like his. This year they came from Houston Ballet and Ballet Arizona, as well as the local Smuin Ballet, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and Company C Contemporary Ballet.

Perhaps most intriguing is the ease with which Dekkers’ choreography embraces the ground and the air as one liquid continuum. His dancers crawl, slither, and slide along the floor like billowing smoke — and then rise into space as if born to it.

The world premiere for seven dancers, field the present shifts, is probably Dekkers’ most ambitious piece yet. It is a problematic work. A collaboration with architects Robert Gilson and Catherine Caldwell and a commissioned score, performed live by Matthew Pierce, it also features gorgeous magenta body-hugging costumes by Christine Darch, and a richly varied lighting design by David Robertson.

According to the program notes, field examines complex relationships. Within a given set of parameters, the piece also allows for individual decision-making by everyone involved. It added up to a lot of in-the-moment choices by a lot of people, and the results did not convince.

Visually, however, field was a feast for the senses. The dancers flew at each other like arrows, bunched up into swaying unisons as if buffeted by some gale force wind. They gathered on individual squares of light, responded to each other across the stage, and seemed to walk on water. They rolled into somersaults and carefully explored and yanked at each other. What I missed was an encompassing frame that held these individual units together. Also, a sense of uncertainty marred some the canons and unisons.

The two designers came up with what looked like huge sheaves of wheat hung upside down; at one point, they were lowered, presumably for the dancers to interact with. Few of them did. So what was the point? The distinct character of each of the ten or so sections of Pierce’s score for five violins, however, was a pleasure to hear.

The evening opened with the reworked Colouring II from 2011, danced with great authority by Ashley Flaner and Domenico Luciano. The piece traced the making of a pas de deux, developing at the same time as Enrico Quintero’s creation of a large, calligraphy-inspired painting. The dancers, approaching each other from opposite sides, added another gesture with each encounter, suggesting an almost filmic sense of accumulation. Daniel Berkman’s score, performed live, contributed his own voice to this intriguing process. This was watching visual and kinetic art in the making, and it was a delight. However, Dekkers standing on the sidelines, cueing the process, seemed intrusive. He should have trusted his artists.

Sixes and Seven, also from 2011, is a solo, here danced delicately yet firmly by Jessica Collado. This was richly varied choreography in which the dancer made full use of her body, including an excellent use of gestural language. At times, Collado appeared to withdraw into herself, but she also reacted to invisible external forces that impinged on her. You got a sense that she was living in a rich world. If the use of an excerpt from Philip Glass’s Einstein at the Beach meant to suggest some kind of cosmic existence, the choice was perfect.

Last year’s When in Doubt ended awkwardly in a wobbly pyramid, and used a distracting word-and-sound score by Jacob Wolkenhauer. But Dekkers showed considerable choreographic chops in the way he used his septet of dancers both in unisons and in smaller units. With the women on pointe walking in plié, and Robertson’s stark lighting that pulled the dancers across the stage with a quasi magnetic force, When began to feel ominous. This was even true for the two very different duets for Raychel Weiner and Christian Squire, and Collado and Jane Hope Rehm.

Dressing the women in black leotards and the topless men in black tights was inspired because the dancers could almost disappear into each other. The women were dark from the waist up, the men from the waist down. The color scheme abstracted personal interactions and sequences into two-dimensional patterns — thus foregoing overly eager tendencies to read narrative intentions into Dekkers’ choreography. *