Queens, Latinas and Dreams”
Choreographer Catherine Marie Davalos has been skirting around the edges of Bay Area dance for a number of years, always giving the impression that one wanted to see more of her work when it popped up on little festivals or in group shows. So her tenth anniversary, tripartite concert afforded a welcome opportunity to look at the body of work she has created in the last decade.
The news is mostly good. Davalos has a distinct voice, a good amount of craft and is working with an engaging group of dancers. Where she seems to focus her energy is in choreography with a humorous bent and in works which are sensuous and feminine in an almost old-fashioned way. If and how the two propensities are related, I couldn’t figure out.
The program’s first part opened with the “Dreams” section for which Davalos premiered two new works, “Bedtime Rituals” and “Sleepless Night.” “Bedtime, was a duet for Elizebeth Randall and Shaunna Vella, the company’s most engaging artists. Ballet trained with good lines and strong technique, Randall is elegant but assertive; Vella tall and lanky. The chemistry between them is electrifying whatever they are dancing in. In “Bedtime” they were given the unenviable task of dancing kids who delay for as along as possible a mother’s “go to sleep now.”
Performed on four platforms, one of which is a bed, the duo raced each other, competed, collaborated and imitated each other’s moves. It’s a playful piece that could look silly but didn’t because Davalos kept its antics under such nice control. Repetitions, canons, unisons and tonal nuances—plus its performers' charm—gave this romp just enough structure to make it enjoyable.
In “Sleepless” Roberta Marguerite Chavez, Davalos, Sharon Hoy and Luis de Robles Tentindo, are dressed in sumptuous dressing gown which they eventually discard to reveal equally sumptuous night garments. The work started out ceremonially as the quartet processed towards its “beds”. Even as the unisons disintegrated and the foursome recombined in various manners, the piece remained quite formal though became increasingly more fragmented. Those night walkers partnered each other, sometimes back to back, took turns on a bed, reunited in unisons or simply flopped over. Individually they were restless, but as a group they seemed caught in a dream. The piece was set to “Quartet for Piano and Strings.” an appealing modernist work by Martin Rokeach which set the mood but must have been rhythmically challenging for the dancers.
“The Fainting Room” and “Revised Dido, Clever Queen” made up the program’s “Sacral Queen” section.
The cast for the revised “Fainting”—which refers to a private place where corseted women were free to get rid of their constricting garments—was quite different from the 1998 one which is when I first saw the work. Now the opening section was performed as a duet by Randall and Vella. Slow and self-absorbed its languid poses flowed into each other like pungent honey. Their comfort level with each other’s body was extraordinarily tactile and intimate. Curling up around each other, exploring each others spaces, they looked as if they had stepped out of Maxwell Parrish painting.
In “Fainting"’s second section, a trio of dancers in rather dreadful—I couldn’t figure out whether they were supposed to be humorous—crinoline gowns with ridiculous hats curtsied, bowed and positioned themselves on highly decorated, elegantly painted—high backed chairs. Eventually the women took off their constricting garments and then, rather predictably, became more physically exuberant, particularly when Vella and Randally joined the frolicking. This part of the choreography was too thin, it needed to be fleshed out more.
The problematic “Dido” was a feminist take on the Queen of Carthage who here emerges not as a victim but victorious. The narrative which involved a younger sister and Dido as a young woman seemed fuzzy. Yet Vella as Dido impressed; vulnerable and stricken she rose to strength and majesty. Davalos also created some rather lovely, very simple choreography for the women of the court. In their verticality they almost looked like temple columns that had become alive. The music again was Rokeach’s.
After intermission, the program’s third section, “Latinas” showed work for which Davalos examined her Mexican American heritage. “Doblez” from 1994, a duet for Vella and James Soria-Matthews, is still among her best work. Slunk down and sitting in his hips, Soria-Matthews was all sulking male, Vella with her arms crossed in front of her breast, all defiant female. As these wary combatants started to circle around each other, they began to chip away at each other’s distrust bit by bit. Abrupt turns, sudden falls, nose high kicks gave way to space eating runs, chases and lifts in which the relationship could spread its wing. Its trajectory was convincingly realized.
For “Return” Davalos donned a sombrero and danced a drunk who gets pulled again and again towards something only to be rejected every time. With her back to the audience and repeatedly balancing herself in an angled off center attitude, Davalos looked like a man trying to lift his leg over the fence that is too high. A rather athletic work, she spiraled along, tried to catch up with her legs, somersaulted and longingly stretched wobbly arms when she didn’t bury her head on her chest, Davas was all clown. This tightly constructed, well timed piece had all the hallmark’s of a good clown’s act, sadness and hilarity.
Last year’s shimmering “Aguas Calientes”, for which Brittany Brown Ceres joined Vella and Randall, showed Davalos at her most sensuous. The musical collage (Elliot Goldenthal, Paco de Lucia, Ciro Hurtado and Ottmar Liebert), however, sounded too patched together.
The title refers to Davalos’ parents’ birthplace and water was the work’s reigning metaphor. Slowly paced, “Aguas” overflowed with deep back bends and liquid stretches, sweeping, peeling and unfolding gestures. Yet entanglements also opened up like sun bursts. Whether intended or not, Brown Ceres, particularly in the Paco de Lucia section, remained an outsider in this trio of self-absorbed mermaids.
“Finale: my soul is very brown, and so is my skin…” was a simple community dance with every one dressed in red and Davalos acting as a pied piper. Well performed by a dozen dancers, Davalos created kaleidoscopic patterns that contracted and expanded, filling and emptying the stage. Exuberant, elegant and joyful, it was a festive anniversary finale.
Photos, all by Matt
3, No. 5