Dance Mission Theater
reviewed by Rachel Howard
doubts political cynics might have about Anne Bluethenthal's
optimistic worldview, you have to be glad it's out there.
Bay Area residents were especially grateful for her
healing message nearly two years ago, when she brought
together Israeli and Palestinian musicians for the hopeful
Tears of Rock, which by one of those strange
strokes of history just happened to premiere right after
In the tempestuous time since, Bluethenthal has turned
away from specific conflicts and back to that great
Goddess of artistic themes, the human condition. The
result was the grandly positioned "fourth chamber"
of her series The Heart Is a Live Thing. Global
Heart ran two July weekends at Dance Mission Theater.
It was, for better and for worse, quintessential Bluethenthal.
Bluethenthal's great asset as both a choreographer and
a dancer is her earnestness and simplicity. Sophistication,
it would seem, is antithetical to her personal philosophy.
One does not attend an Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers
concert looking for complex sociological analysis or
a nuanced portrait of human relations. When, during
the stirring opening performance by the four-member
Cultural Heritage Choir, two kids were sent to prance
about the floor while the lyrics spoke of praying for
the children, you knew just what you were in for during
the dance ahead. And yet even choreographically, Global
Heart was thin.
As Bluethenthal wrote in her program notes, Global
Heart "conceptualizes through word and movement
the possibility of a cosmic heart that is the origin
of life as we know it." What this amounted to visually
was nine dancers dressed in shredded earth tones, oozing
like primordial mud through Bluethenthal's soft and
They paired off to cradle one another; they punched
at each other (though gently—even the most aggressive
of Bluethenthal's movements have not a hint of real
violence in them) and then hugged one another in ecstatic
reconciliation. In between these repetitive episodes,
Bluethenthal and Benita Ward delivered extremely mild-mannered
rants hitting the usual broad targets—materialism
and commercialism—and a "priestess"
arrived to trade in the dancer's purchases for primitive
and pure spiritual relics. A comic interlude offering
the cure for "heart disease"-organic and non-GMO
foods-quickly exhausted itself.
Longtime Bluethenthal collaborator Marc Ream's richly
textured score (with live, generally lyric-less singing
by Susan Volkan), however, kept the work's pulse throbbing.
And ABD's dancers flowed through the relentless, intermissionless
75 minutes like lifeblood. Bluethenthal has assembled
her strongest company in years. Laura Elaine Ellis,
with her knowing stare and unwavering balance, transformed
the banal phrases of her solos into an urgent message.
Well-muscled Zimbabwean Nora Chipaumire, quickly becoming
a fixture on the Mission Dance scene, gave every kick
pinpoint focus. Chimene Pollard's liquid extension rivaled
her wise set of jaw for sheer beauty.
But Ream's 4/4 meters seemed to reinforce Bluethenthal's
rhythmic rut, with the anguished poses, palms outstretched,
striking "Vogue"-like on every fourth beat.
Nor was there much play with gesture to thread you through
a work that could have been twice as good at half the
length. Sometimes simple messages, however needed in
today's world, are more potent in smaller packages.
copyright 2003 by Rachel Howard
Photos: Andy Mogg