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Weekend Roundup: Unsayable, Slide, Ruined, Fabulation

March 7, 2011

Here’s a bit about some of what I did at the weekend:

1) Hope Mohr Dance presents The Unsayable at Z Space: At the start of Friday evening’s performance, choreographer Hope Mohr walked on stage and made a tidy little speech about her new work based on a collaboration with war veterans. The fact that the speech sounded exactly like the pitch a non-profit arts organization writes to get funding from a foundation for a project pretty much sums up the experience of seeing the work presented that evening. The piece, which included dancers performing alongside vets, checked off all the boxes in terms of what grant-makers are looking for (artistic collaboration with underserved community members, in-depth workshop process, public presentation of outcomes etc etc). But the result was largely joyless and lacking in artistic merit. If one of the objects of the piece was to create some kind of understanding between the vets and the artists, the opposite revealed itself in the performance -- the gulf remained vast, as the vets couldn’t dance and the dancers didn’t demonstrate in any tangible way what their relationship with the vets meant. The choreography was trite and the piece said nothing thoughtful or new about the experience and aftermath of war for those who are on the front lines. I expect that some good came out of the process of the two groups working closely together. But why this sort of work needs to be presented before a paying public audience mystifies me: It should remain a workshop process to serve community-building and/or therapeutic ends.

2) Slide at Stanford Lively Arts: The Grammy Award-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird brought its collaboration with experimental performer Rinde Eckert and guitarist Steve Mackey to the Stanford campus on Saturday evening. Slide, a co-commission between Stanford Lively Arts and the Ojai Festival (where the work was premiered in 2009) sounds like it was as confused an artistic experiment at its premiere as it is today. (I am extrapolating this from the San Francisco Classical Voice article I read by a writer who had monitored the development of the work since its earliest iteration and explained that it had been tweaked since 2009.) The background materials indicate that the work is based on a series of scientific experiments conducted a few years ago that tested the way in which an individual’s view of the world is based on his or her preconceptions. The concept isn’t very revelatory really. By the time Malcolm Gladwell had mined the notion in his book Blink, it was already taken for granted. Still, I made very little sense of the quasi-theatrical piece. I loved the music, which veered between muscular electronic guitar riffs an delicate lines for classical chamber ensemble. And Eckert, who used both his well-developed head voice and brassy baritone, is always fun to watch, though I’ve watched him amble around the stage executing shambling, effete dance steps in one too many productions at this point.

3) Two plays by Lynn Nottage: I caught Ruined at Berkeley Rep and a production of Fabulation at Fort Mason by the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre Company. To find out what I think about these productions, please visit The Bay Citizen tomorrow, where my piece about both will appear.

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