Photograph by Dave Lepori
Reaching: Ramon Moreno and Maria Jacobs in 'The Pulse of Love'
Margaret Wingrove's company celebrated 25 years with eight pieces about relationships
By Marianne Messina
IN EIGHT complementary dance pieces, choreographer Margaret Wingrove celebrated over the weekend her company's 25th anniversary in a program called "The Changing Colors of Passion." I did not want this show to end. Each piece had a personality and unfolded in moments of surprise as they spun out a tapestry of human relationships. Even the two solo pieces revealed relationships. In an excerpt from Speaking of Love (2004), Michael Howerton, who retires after this program, danced with a ring, indicating that it is both precious—he lifted it delicately from a tiger-eye jewelry box—and alive. He reached out for the ring only to pass his hand over it, or bent toward it to snap quickly away or danced around it, as if it were imbued with a life force, the lover or the romance.
We saw a similar absentee presence in Lori Seymour's solo performance, Zelda (the talented but troubled wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald). As the dance follows Zelda "shaving off one part of myself after another," her voice-over apostrophe to Fitzgerald (read by Judith Miller) reminds us that she dances in conversation. Here, the only evidence of her invisible dance partner is the dysfunction that marks her powerful movements. Wingrove has capped off this dance with the remnants of Zelda's life—ballet slippers, flapper dress—piled up next to an empty picture frame on the floor.
Throughout the program, thoughtful hues and varied, impressive musical selections enhanced each dance's unique emotional tone. Richard Larsen's lighting design bathed Ballet San Jose dancers Ramon Moreno and Maria Jacobs in deep red lighting for The Pulse of Love (2007 premiere). Pouring passion into form, Moreno punctuated the flowing flamenco guitar phrases of Pepe Romero with tight, crisp flourishes. The couple's unison moves were stirring; the supportive moves, calisthenic—Moreno sank to a split with Jacobs resting on his forward leg.
In Facade (1990), Howerton, Catharine Grow and Annette Williams countered this harmonious order by expressing the tension beneath orderly (Victorian) facades. In classic photographic poses, women's hands folded neatly, man standing imperiously erect behind them, the agitation first showed in the way Grow rocked in her chair. In bursts, the dancers reverted from tight-pressed facades to kicking forces of jealousy, competition and almost juvenile rebellion. Serenely prim, Williams walked past Grow (equally prim) then turned to strangle her. Chuckles repeatedly broke out among the audience, as if watching students who act up while the teacher's back is turned and snap to studious when s/he turns around. The program was rife with visually striking moments and actions, like the strangling, that stick in the mind's eye.
In Two Into One (1984), which depicts "manipulation in a relationship of two people," Seymour rotated on the floor pounding out a beat that dictated Travis Walker's tempo. As she pounded faster and faster, Walker followed, until finally he ran at her and seized her. Later, on the diagonal, Walker exerted a corresponding rotational force, on the floor, one leg forward as if pedaling a large wheel with Seymour on its rim.
A weave of echoes and responses, the program balanced troubled relationships with loving ones. In response to Two Into One, Catharine Grow and Matt Kovac take the form of Rodin's eponymous sculpture and open The Kiss (2005) embracing like stone figures on the clay pedestal designed by Renee Jankowski. At this piece's premiere, Le Petit Trianon's raised stage gave the dancers the advantage of distance, so it was amazing at San Jose Stage to look down on them at such close range and watch Kovac's numerous lifts seem as effortless and Grow's landings and entries as soft. These two dancers melt into each other.
The program finale, Rivers of the Living Water (1993), focused on this tenderness, spreading the moves among the ensemble and over the entire floor space. To John Tupper's expansive, celestial score, dancers emerged one by one, facing a backdrop washed in aquamarine lighting that undulated like waves. They seemed to toss water joyously over their bodies, together in motion but not time. They recombined in small groups, or form rows, circles, figure eights, spirals. The piece resonates with themes like awe—gazing up and outward as if at a star—and human support—gestures of leaning meet countless gentle touches. The final picture, a flow of bodies, some leaping, others assisting their leaps, celebrates not only a hope for humanity, but the hopeful, insightful vision of its creator Margaret Wingrove. Happy silver anniversary MWDC.
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