Move­ment, sound join to­gether in ‘Echo’

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - DATEBOOK - By Steven Winn

It wasn’t un­til 40 min­utes into cre­ator-direc­tor Sara Shel­ton Mann’s “Echo / Rid­ing the Rapids,” seen at its Thurs­day, Oct. 11, open­ing at OD CT heater, that the dancers made any sus­tained phys­i­cal con­tact with each other. Even then there was some­thing stately and re­served about Jesse Zaritt and Anya Cloud’s duet, which con­sisted largely of them cross­ing and in­ter­sect­ing their stiffly straight­ened arms like sticks. Such seem­ing re­straint was not what an au­di­ence might ex­pect from Mann, the noted 74-year-old chore­og­ra­pher with deep roots in con­tact im­pro­vi­sa­tion. But this hour­long piece, which was billed as a world pre­miere but some­times point­edly played as a process-ori­ented work in progress, bris­tled with con­gru­ences and link­ages of var­i­ous blunt, beguil­ing and some­times baf­fling kinds. An early one came when Mann her­self, equipped with a mi­cro­phone, popped out of her aisle seat in the au­di­ence to con­front Zaritt on­stage. “That looks like it hurts,” she said, as his fiercely writhing body ham­mered the floor. Then, in a droll cha­rade, she asked if he was a walk-on and wanted a job. “Would you dance for us?” Mann purred.

He did, his move­ments now smoothed and stretched, arms lofted, fin­gers flut­ter­ing, his long legs hoisted out in re­splen­dent lat­eral kicks. Zaritt re­mained a trans­fix­ingly

watch­able dancer through­out, at one point seem­ing to nearly lev­i­tate from atop a chair he had fetched from the piles of equip­ment scat­tered around the perime­ter of ODC’s brick­walled space.

A lot of the evening’s con­nec­tive tis­sue was sup­plied by com­poser and per­former Pamela Z, po­si­tioned stage left be­hind a wel­ter of lap­tops and other de­vices. In an au­ral lan­guage that ranged from sung high notes to elec­tron­i­cally as­sisted huff­ing and tongue touches that co­a­lesced into gen­tly pat­ter­ing rain, she was in steady if at times mys­te­ri­ous com­mu­nion with the dancers.

That di­a­logue of move­ment and sound turned grace­fully ex­plicit when Pamela Z left her perch, pro­ceeded on­stage and launched into a vivid, word­less aria. Her diva-like pres­ence shifted gears as she ap­proached the sta­tion­ary Cloud and lured her into a slowly dawn­ing move­ment with a lul­laby. It was an echo, one of sev­eral en­act­ments to the work’s ti­tle, of Mann re­leas­ing Zaritt into his own kin­der, gen­tler psy­chic space at the out­set.

Mann, whose long re­sume in­cludes found­ing the mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary troupe Con­tra­band in 1985, found other ways to merge one mode of ex­pres­sion with an­other. A cat­a­log of po­etic col­lec­tive nouns (an ex­al­ta­tion of larks, a par­lia­ment of owls) stirred Cloud to pluck up two hand­fuls of feathers and inch her way pre­car­i­ously across a stage di­ag­o­nal. She was like a bird cling­ing to a wire, only to be­come rooted and weighted at the end, her body sin­u­ously rip­pling in place.

Other uses of lan­guage weren’t so ef­fec­tive. Seem­ingly ran­dom phrases, looped and lay­ered through the sound sys­tem, be­gan to seem man­nered and af­fected. A pho­tog­ra­pher, who might have de­served a cur­tain call, kept in­sert­ing him­self into the frame. Ac­ci­dents seemed in­ten­tional, and in­ten­tion ac­ci­den­tal.

When­ever an idea or no­tion had ex­hausted it­self, there was al­ways some­thing new com­ing along to sup­plant it. The two prin­ci­pal dancers, along with their black­clad echoes Abby Crain and Jesse He­wit, charged, spun and strolled about the space, fill­ing it with feathers, smashed flow­ers, pa­per, elec­tri­cal cords, sticks, clouds of pow­dery white dust. (Amy Tracht­en­berg is the pro­duc­tion’s chaos de­signer, with cal­i­brated light­ing by Grisel Tor­res.) By the end of the night, the ODC stage looked like one of those glo­ri­ously lit­tered stage pic­tures that the late Ger­man chore­og­ra­pher Pina Bausch de­vised. A con­tact-heavy scene rem­i­nis­cent of a wrestling match broke out late in the go­ing. Ear­lier pas­sages were as slow and de­lib­er­ate as bu­toh. Some of this had to be taken — or left — on faith.

Mann was back on­stage at the end, sit­ting down for an­other fauxspon­ta­neous chat with Zaritt. They talked about love and con­trol and the way art, like artists and yes­ter­day, dis­ap­pears. And then, in a grad­ual de­crescendo of light and sound, they did just that.

Rob­bie Sweeny

Anya Cloud in “Echo / Rid­ing the Rapids” at ODC Theater.

Rob­bie Sweeny

Jesse Zaritt in Sara Shel­ton Mann’s “Echo / Rid­ing the Rapids” at ODC Theater.

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