Scott Wells' variety show

  • by Paul Parish
  • Tuesday January 19, 2016
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Collage of dancers choreographed by Shinichi Iova-Koga,<br>Amy Seiwert and Scott Wells. Photos: (left to right:) David Papas, Sunhi Mang,<br>David DeSilva
Collage of dancers choreographed by Shinichi Iova-Koga,
Amy Seiwert and Scott Wells. Photos: (left to right:) David Papas, Sunhi Mang,
David DeSilva

Just before San Francisco Ballet blows back into the Opera House with a blockbuster Gala Performance that opens the season for big-time dance on the West Coast, a charming and intellectually refreshing evening of dances with ideas in them played in a Mission loft space. The house was full, and wildly appreciative. I'd wager the audience was 80% dancers. The event whetted my appetite for the big blockbuster shows to come. In fact, SFB will be hard-pressed to match the freshness and appeal of the Butoh, ballet, and contact improv dancers Scott Wells invited to riff off each other and mash it up in Take this Dance and Shove It.

Even had it failed, Wells' experiment would have been worth making. The Bay Area has the largest, most varied dance community in the whole country outside New York; the area is teeming with talent. One of the features of the SF scene here is cross-training, and not just in the studio, but on stage, performing with dancers trained in other lores " tap and Kathak, say, or Chinese and West-African. Here's a rhythm, let's see what you do with it, that sort of thing. It's actually a tradition here.

As it happened, Take this Dance was very entertaining, a variety show with each form getting to shine in its own way for a moment, then yielding without prejudice to something completely different. Sometimes the dancers would have a solo. Sarah Griffin had an exquisite ballet solo, with her legs unfurling in exquisite patterns. It was just long enough to make you want more. But then Miriam Wolodarski (contact improv) made a little speech in Swedish before demonstrating a slo-mo, one-legged squat, descending smoothly all the way to the floor, resting her butt on her heel. And then it turned out that all of them could do that " and they did.

Wells chose his collaborators well. He himself came to dance through wrestling and yoga; so did Shinichi Iova-Koga, of InkBoat, who started as a kid in Japan with Judo and Aikido. Seiwert's male dancer, the wonderful Scott Marlowe, not only could do cartwheels and log rolls with the best of them, he has the stage presence of an actor. (He was the star of the indie gay movie Test, which won the 2013 Outfest Grand Jury Award.)

Periodically, as Seiwert and Wells would insert themselves as choreographers into the action, the process of dance-making got revealed in many facets, with mutual respect paramount. Allen Wilner's intelligent lighting helped unobtrusively. It's wonderful to see dancers think, make decisions, grab another's idea and make something of their own out of it, or challenge each other to repeat the movement they'd just done, with a different emphasis. Iova-Koga showed how to fall off a stool in slow motion.

This kind of show succeeds, not by demonstrating Opera House production values, but by showing movement ideas aborning, which makes an immediate appeal to your imagination. The tone of the evening was perfectly managed. We got to see each of them excel at what they do themselves, and enjoy how game they were at trying things they were not already skilled at.

It was curious to notice how striking the imagery was, especially the sculptures created by the ballet and Butoh dancers, and how an evening without much rhythmic interest could still hold your attention all the way. What would it have been like with some syncopations?

All of the performers were wonderful. The remaining cast were Dana Iova-Koga, Virginia Broyles, and Shira Yaziv.