Move It or Lose It

Summerfest Dance/99
Various Bay Area dance companies. At Fort Mason's Cowell Theater, Marina & Buchanan, through July 25. Call 441-3687.

You gotta love Summerfest Dance. After all, dismal financial prospects -- most recently, the loss of practice and performance space Brady Street Dance Center to inflated rents -- are narrowing other opportunities for local dancers to try out new ideas, like a tap dance solo culminating in a set-trashing finale.

That was Charles Moulton's idea, and it was one of the best on opening night of the monthlong series. In two programs a week for the rest of the month, choreographers and their dancers will unveil fresh creations, and even though style and quality will naturally vary, there are treasures to be found.

The unassuming Moulton (who's set work on companies ranging from the Joffrey Ballet to Baryshnikov's White Oak Project) hoofed his way across miked slabs of what looked like plywood in his new solo Fred. Between bursts of staccato tapping accompanied by handclaps and muttered exclamations like, "One more time!" Moulton periodically stopped short and bellowed, "Fred!" at the ceiling. Moulton is a fine tapper and the miked sound of his chattering feet made intriguing metallic echoes as he opened up into flashy wing steps, but what really distinguished the piece was its enigmatic comedy. There's something inherently funny in watching a man encourage himself out loud as he tap dances ("That's it, nice and easy, pick it up, good! Nice!"); it's funnier still to watch him do it to Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly." Moulton capped this display by tearing his stage apart, and diving under a slab of board. As quiet eventually descended, he looked up one more time. "Fred?" he asked. Long pause. "Ginger?" Oh -- it suddenly became clear -- that Fred.

Mercy Sidbury's Four Distemperments quoted a bit of dance history as well: Balanchine's Four Temperaments. Working from the ballet master's model, a series of variations patterned on states of being (Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, Choleric), Sidbury turned in a series of three solos and a duet similar in mood but very different in style. Melancholic became simply "Dismay," a disconsolate slow drag marked with sweeping, full-armed gestures, while the violent Amazonian solo of Choleric went modern as Sidbury, sporting an enormous belt buckle, launched herself into a series of swaggering, tough-girl poses and reckless jumps. From there she stripped into a superhero outfit and was joined by Abby Crain for "Display," an acrobatic interlude with well-executed barrel turns.

Sidbury has a magnetic presence, but the companion piece to Four Distemperments, After the Shot, needs something more than that to really fly. Sidbury has based a series of solo variations on text from Hallmark cards that she recites as she dances, an idea that must have sounded funnier on paper than it looked in actual execution. It's not much of a revelation that Hallmark sentiments are overwrought, although Sidbury did get comic juice out of some of them,~ like her reading of a wife's card to her husband, accompanied by a tiptoed skittering across the stage and jerky, puppetlike gestures.

Sue Roginski and Stephanie Schaaf turned in an angular, academic modern duet punctuated with breathy exhalations, while Janice Garrett brought two pieces with her; last year's Room Enough, a slight but charming balletic skirmish for three people and a park bench, and an appealing new pas de quatre, Wayfaring. Mixing the world beat style of Varttina with pockets of silence and bright lights with finely etched shadows, this buoyant and briskly paced collection of hip swivels, knifing extensions, and swooning dives was performed with dead-on timing by Garrett's dancers.

 
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