Live Dance at Liberty Station!

“Lovers in Love” Photo: Jim Carmody

I’m excited to go anywhere these days, but a live dance show! My first in more than a year! In fact, it’s a festival—four weekends of performances by the resident companies at Dance Place! Declarations of “I’m vaccinated” were followed by hugs! I may end every sentence with an exclamation point!

Of course, this is not “back to normal.” The setting is an outdoor stage at Liberty Station—the festival is titled “Dance is in the Air.” The audience is masked and distanced. So are the dancers. And we’re longing for closer connection, a wish conveyed poignantly in dances by Terry Wilson.

Brianna Bellamy and Mario Jaimes. Photo: Doug McMinimy

Wilson is the new artistic director of San Diego Dance Theater, which opened the festival last weekend. An artist of heart and depth, Wilson seems incapable of making a trivial dance. Even her fun, flirty “Lovers in Love” has substance. To 60s pop tunes, six dancers (the four women in summery party dresses) do exuberant kicks and pony prances, even jumping to match the lyrics on “Ain’t no mountain high enough.” It’s playful and light yet suffused with a yearning to touch!

The desire for physical connection is made visible in Wilson’s “Words Move,” a suite of four dances, each one introduced by a recorded reading of a poem. In a section that opens with a stanza from David Adès’s “A Line in the Sand,” Brianna Bellamy and Mario Jaimes sit at either end of a bench, facing away from each other, then reach an arm back … back … back and almost touch.

Cecily Holcombe. Photo: Doug McMinimy

Cecily Holcombe extends her gorgeous long limbs in deep lunges and expansive balances in a piece introduced by Neruda’s “If You Forget Me.” Dancing solo, she’s unmasked, and her face is anguished.

Wilson exquisitely curated the wistful poetry and moody classical music (often, as I recall, featuring cello). As a whole, the set of four brief dances felt like it has yet to find an ending. Maybe that will only happen when we can remove our masks.

The program, titled “Other Times, Other Places,” also included work by Jean Isaacs, who recently retired as the head of San Diego Dance Theater, Khamla Somphanh, and Rosanna Tavarez.

Isaacs’ intense “Phantom Limbs, Revisited” features text by UCSD Theater professor James Winker about friends lost to AIDS—spoken by Marcos Duran, as Liv Isaacs-Nollet hovers at his side. Dressed in a pale camisole and tap pants, Isaacs-Nollet might be a spirit, invisible to Duran, even as they engage in increasingly deft partnering: she perches on his shoulder, balances upside-down across his lap. Ironically, because both of these dancers are vaccinated, they can be in physical contact; but, until a tussle near the end, Duran seems unaware of Isaacs-Nollet’s presence.

Lauren Christie in “Purposely Accidental.” Photo: Doug McMinimy

Lauren Christie is riveting in Somphanh’s “Purposely Accidental,” a powerful solo in which a voice recording—of President Barack Obama—reveals that during the Vietnam War era, bombs fell on Laos “like rain.” Dressed in deep red and gold, Christie moves initially with the precise alignment of a temple dancer. Gradually the precision gives way, and she throws herself around the stage, sweeping her arms over the floor as if searching for land mines.

Solo tango sounds like an oxymoron—tango is all about dangerously entwining limbs and smoldering relationships—and in Tavarez’s solo, “Milonga Mia,” she sometimes dances as if holding an imaginary partner. She also tosses her hair a lot. As she states in the program notes, there’s no substitute for “the joy and tactile exchange elicited by dancing in partnership.” This piece seems to prove it. But it was the one disappointment on a program that took me to my happy place!

Coming up in the “Dance is in the Air” festival:

May 27-30    Malashock Dance: “The Bridge”

June 5-6        San Diego Ballet: “Debussy Dances”

June 1  1-13  San Diego Dance Theater: Young Choreographers and Invited Guests

Also on the dance calendar for June 5-6—San Diego Dance Theater is presenting Trolley Dances.

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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2 Comments

  1. Ken Herman on May 27, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    Janice–great to see your byline again on SanDiegoStory–not to mention your lucid and always engaging prose. Such excellent news that dance is now back in front of live audiences!

    • Janice Steinberg on June 3, 2021 at 2:24 pm

      Ken, thank you for your kind words!

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