Great Digs, So-so Dance at PGK’s “Welcome to Summer”

Peter Kalivas might consider developing a sideline in conducting urban tours to cool spots around town. Kalivas, director of The PGK Dance Project, likes to take dance out of the theater and to the people, and he has a nose for interesting off-the-beaten-path venues – for instance, he’s done shows in a hair salon and a wine bar.

On Friday, he outdid himself. PGK’s “Welcome to Summer” show took place at You Are Here, a partly finished mixed use project on 25th Street in Golden Hill. Created by the award-winning architectural firm FoundationForForm, You Are Here is an adult playhouse with beguiling blocks of intense color, slanted walls, an industrial-style grilled walkway, an outdoor stage area, and remnants – service bays, signage – of the Texaco station that once occupied the lot.

You Are Here gets my vote for PGK’s best location ever. The dance was more of a mixed bag, and in surprising ways. The show was partly a recital for PGK’s summer intensive students, and I figured the excitement level of those dances would depend on whether one was related to any of the teen dancers. But two of their pieces were created by guest artist Denese Enriquez of the Belize National Dance Company, and the exuberant, hip-shaking Afro-Caribbean moves provided some of the evening’s high points.

"Trappings" performed in University Heights

“Trappings” performed in University Heights

Among the professional dances, the strongest works were two duets – “Remember Us,” a premiere by guest company Freespace Dance from New Jersey and Kalivas’s “Trappings.”

In “Remember Us,” Freespace director Donna Scro sketches a possibly ended relationship. The piece begins with tender exploratory partnering. Bryan Matland carries Lauren Melusky-Smith on his back, and she returns the favor. Then each one does his/her own dance – Matland witnesses hers, while she turns her back on his – in what feels like the inevitable push-pull of trying to maintain one’s identity but stay connected. Intense, muscular Matland and willowy Melusky-Smith, Freespace company dancers, had such deep focus that when, early in the piece, a siren blared in the street outside, it didn’t even register.

In Kalivas’s “Trappings” (2005), David Wornovitzky and Jennifer Fait are trapped in conflict with each other. Wornovitzky, a tall, powerful dancer, stands directly behind Fait and goads her into motion by pressing his knee into her leg. But she knows how to fight, too, doing a yoga plank on his supine body and pinning him down. It’s a deliciously menacing battle between two people who can’t let go.

There’s a cleanness and focus to the two-person “Trappings” that I wished for in Kalivas’s two larger-scale works for his company. These dances may have suffered from being on a tight stage, but both “Flexible While Frozen” and “Love is Gone” felt … the word that kept coming to me was “sloppy.” The dances looked under-rehearsed, the lifts labored, and the focus vague.

The program also included Viviana Alcazar’s light-hearted, lightweight “Distant Memory” (2013), in which four women are like kids playing.

Two pieces were created as part of a competition to be PGK’s next guest choreographer. The competitors, Joanna Tan and Michael Nickerson-Rossi, had just ten hours in which to make dances using the elements of rain, heat, percussion, and contact. Though the results, predictably, looked like very early efforts, Tan came up with intriguing hand-washing gestures and bits in which dancers clustered and then broke out. I liked Nickerson-Rossi bringing in rain via performers drumming on metal trays; and no one got credit for the costumes in his dance, but the women’s sheer blue-gray dresses over lavender underskirts were gorgeous.

Nickerson-Rossi performed in his own piece, and wow, can he dance! Director of his own company in Los Angeles, he moves with fluidity, power, and control. I was so aware of his core, I felt my own abs get tighter. “He’s the real thing,” I wrote in my notes. Watching him dance was the one time, in the evening of work, that I felt a thrill.



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