Playful movement with Garrett + Moulton

  • by Paul Parish
  • Tuesday August 13, 2019
Share this Post:
Gretchen LaWall, Nol Simonse, and Haiou Wang of Garrett + Moulton Productions. Photo: Courtesy the artists
Gretchen LaWall, Nol Simonse, and Haiou Wang of Garrett + Moulton Productions. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Garrett + Moulton Productions wowed us last Friday night. Their show packed the theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; the audience left exhilarated. Forty performers, musicians and dancers poured energy forth at an aerobic level, as an antidote to the misery generated by the current state of affairs, and gave us, for two hours, surcease from the distractions, alarms, outrages of the state of the world.

It was planned that way. Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, life-partners as well as artistic co-directors of this wonderful music/dance ensemble, share a sense of how to organize space that makes their very different sensibilities and movement styles cohere at a very deep level.

Nol Simonse, and Haiou Wang of Garrett + Moulton Productions. Photo: Courtesy the artists  

They danced four pieces. "The Mozart" (co-choreographed by both directors) opened with six dancers holding hands, standing on the balls of their feet looking into the center of their circle, in the shape of a tiara made of a memory metal. As their pianist, Allegra Chapman, excellent, began a sonata, they slowly twisted away from each other, still linked and supporting each other, returning to place, then reconfiguring in an indelible image of harmony, tension, and mutual awareness. As the music enveloped a current of rapid movement, they flowed away from it into wider configurations that developed through individual variations, and finally converged into a circle of joy, with single dancers flying into the center like an arrow hitting the bull's-eye, then erupting into quicksilver dances of joy. Along the way, there had been strongly differentiated solos, and touching support offered in duets. The five members of the company, all superbly trained in both ballet and contemporary techniques, are Carolina Czechowska, Gretchen LaWall, Nol Simonse, Haiou Wang, Miche Wong and guest artist Jeremy Smith.

18-person precision ball-passing, a variant of a seminal idea first choreographed by Moulton in 1972, preceded the intermission. Danced by 18 volunteers seated in the pattern of a Tic-Tac-Toe diptych, and backed by a wind and piano orchestra directed by and playing the music of Jonathan Russell of the SF Conservatory, they handed off balls to each other with amazing speed and precision in ways that fit the textures, accents and phrasing of Russell's sort-of-minimalist, very witty music. The effect of seeing ordinary people in ordinary clothes moving without inhibition, without vanity, without the glitches and hesitations that plague most of us most of the time, passing the balls so fast the stream of movement began to look like ribbons, generated a sense of well-being and fellow-feeling in us all that seemed like grace abounding. Every version of this dance has done this: Moulton has arranged a version for 3,000 people doing it in the Platz in Stuttgart. Periodically, little groups of dancers in colorful tights jumped in and cavorted in front of the movement choir, rapturously throwing balls into the air, as if to represent those of us in the audience who wanted to jump up there and join in the dance.

After intermission, Garrett's company piece, "Hunting Gathering," based on Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous Transcendentalist essay "The Oversoul," got its premiere: a little rocky, the dancers could not make it convincing, though Nol Simonse's sad-sack solo appearances are burnt into my memory.

The finale, "Gojubi" (a made-up word meaning "Go be jubilant," Garrett told those who stayed for the Q&A), featured the company dancers and enough extras to allow them all to perform the piece at full tilt without having heart attacks onstage. Among the add-ons, Sonja Dale was clear, shining, and smiling the whole time, as when she circled the stage and returned to her spot at the back for a lift. This piece showed Garrett's intuitive command of space. She has this faculty to a very high degree. It was a wonderful evening.