Thursday, April 1, 2010
To the sound of a nostalgic yet dissonantly experimental bluegrass, four dancers reach, crouch and cringe at wild angles. Their denim dresses recall a time when farming was everyone’s way of life, but the hems, revealing the minutely defined muscles of the dancers’ bare legs and feet, have an ultra-modern length.
Inspired by the story of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s as told by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, the piece these dancers are co-creating is contemporary at the same time. While photographs of the wandering Okies are projected on the back wall and a voice with an Oklahoma accent periodically speaks Steinbeck’s lines, each element is smoothly integrated with the wild music and innovative – and asymmetrical – choreography.
Like this “Figures in the Dust,” all of the pieces that make up The Heritage Project, which debuts Saturday but has been simmering for years, explore the history of our region using current technology and techniques, awakening our sense of heritage by charging it with present-day relevance.
“It came together about a year ago, but I have been developing the concept for about 13 years,” Artistic Director Fran Spector-Atkins says. “I have a lot of pieces that could be considered Heritage Project pieces. It was only when I looked back that I could see a connecting line.”
The Heritage Project is like a collection of short stories exploring a single theme through different lenses: The pieces focus on the relationship of people to land in our region, but “show a wide range of genres,” according to SpectorDance company dancer Pamela Keindl, and “run the full spectrum of emotions.”
The audience journeys through The Red Pony’s portrayal of childhood in the early 20th century Salinas Valley, then Steinbeck’s more mature statement about the suffering of the Okies in The Grapes of Wrath, and finally, California agriculture today, in the recent piece, “Common Ground.” To provide even more variety, Spector-Atkins ends the show with a more light-hearted, abstract piece, “Bach Sweets.”
Photographer-videographer William Roden collaborates with Spector-Atkins to create the stunning background slideshows that combine antique photographs with new footage of Earthbound Farm and the landscape of the Salinas Valley. The layering of images, movement, music and text makes for a robust mind-body experience.
According to both Spector-Atkins and Keindl, SpectorDance’s choreography has improved in recent years. “I have found that my choreographic process continues to evolve,” Spector-Atkins says. “The capacity to create more subtle, richly layered choreography has grown.”
Both agree that the talent of the dancers has also improved greatly. Keindl is one example of remarkable talent being attracted to SpectorDance; a former dancer with the Utah Ballet, the Ballet West, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Company C Contemporary Ballet, her superb muscle control allows her to bend her body like pulled taffy.
Another star of this performance is Rosannah Riess, who also currently performs as an aerialist on vertical rope with the San Francisco Circus Center.
“It’s great to have her,” Keindl says. “She’s incredibly strong. She’s creative, but more than anything what sticks out to me is her strength; it gives her performance a lot of grounding.”