Photo by Chelsea Rowe

Modern dance extravaganza

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Rachel Howard, Examiner Dance Critic San Francisco Examiner What a thrill to walk up to the often-desolate Cowell Theater and find a line of mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings winding far outside the doors for a modern dance concert. It remains to be seen how effective the fledgling Bay Area Performing Arts organization will prove at raising promising local companies to a greater level of professionalism and financial security. But these high-energy BAP Arts "galas" (last Thursday and Friday's program was the nonprofit group's second annual) are raison d'etre enough. The performers - many of The City's beset modern dancers - were as vibrant as the nearly full-house audience. And the first two BAP Arts beneficiaries, Rapt Performance Group and KUNST-STOFF - two of the organization's co-founders - showed themselves worthy of their own organization's assistance, offering smart production values (excellent lighting, in both cases, by Matthew De Gumbia) and a taste of two already well-developed choreographic styles. If these groups' young choreographers (and those of Marin-based collective The Foundry in a guest appearance) are also still in a period of self-consciously breaking rules, that only makes a stronger case for supporting their development. They are too talented to get stuck in the vicious cycle of rebellion-for-its-own-sake. In the meantime, KUNST-STOFF's Yannis Adoniou will insist on dotting his latest premiere with pretentious text about how "accident congeals into art form." The Foundry will test limits by freezing all stage action (including a naked Christian Burns) around a video of a man dancing for an entire Beatles' song, and the collaborators behind Rapt will give the umpteenth reprisal of furniture gymnastics. Small prices to pay for all the gorgeous dancemaking that came in between. But there were no such fleeting gimmicks in "Wayfaring," a beautifully reworked 1999 piece by Garrett, the program's second guest artist and the sage veteran of the evening. Her bouncy, whimsical and tightly patterned movement to the world music of Varttina never let down. Jenifer Golden and Dana Lawton, both recent mothers, played up the quartet's exuberance, along with good-natured Heather Tietsort and Kara Davis. An intense solo for Davis was one of the high points of KUNST-STOFF's "numerous axidents (formed)." Though this lengthy work didn't cohere conceptually, it provided more than a compensating share of beautiful movement. Adoniou is a former member of Alonzo King's Lines Ballet, and his work borrows the arched backs, jutted hips and sinewy pathways of that troupe. But Adoniou's style is also his own. It is calmer and cleaner than King's, which not to say it is better but quite different. Adoniou lets his 10 dancers, several of them ballet-trained, show off their lines occasionally, and he excels at steadily traveling groups; one mesmerizing passage has the dancers stream across in a simple phrase of luxuriously stretched tendus, the basic ballet step of pointing the leg and foot. Alex Ketley and Christian Burns, two of The Foundry's co-founders, are current members of King's troupe, which seems to be incubating a lot of new choreographic talent. 1998's "Salt Flat Pieces" isn't as tightly conceived as some of this multimedia group's other works, but it did offer slow-motion video of free-spirited dancing by Ketley, intriguing contrasted by a twitchy live duet danced alongside his onscreen image. The ambitious Rapt Performance Group presented part of "House," its full-length work in progress. "The Family Room" was full of the company's characteristically propulsive dancing, with Shelley Trott literally climbing the wall as the youngest child, and her charismatic husband and co-director Austin Forbord partnering Jessica Adams as the surburbanite mom. Trott and Forbord proffer some great punch lines (the family rushes around the couch to "the Simpsons" theme music) and some psychologically rich scenarios, including a duet in which Forbord tries to teach his effeminate son (Brian Grannan) to thrust his hips. This is eye-catching stuff, but the ideas behind several of the episodes aren't complex enough to sustain them (a duet in which Adams forces rebellious daughter Tina Banchero to wear a matching Talbot's-style dress would have hit harder at half the running time). In short, Rapt's got some serious revising to do before "House" hits Theater Artaud in 2003. And this is not a bad thing. If this alliance they're calling BAP Arts offers the space and time to do it, the project deserves unqualified support.