Amy Seiwert's Imagery presented an evening of premieres July 25 before a packed house at ODC Theater in the third of her Sketch series, meant to promote risk and experimentation within a balletic vocabulary. Sketch 3: Expectations features choreography by San Francisco Ballet's Val Caniparoli, Marc Brew of Australia, and Seiwert, each engaging Imagery's eight stunning dancers in deeds of derring-do.
The triumph of the evening was Caniparoli's Triptych, based on Lalage Snow's portraits of British soldiers before, during, and after their deployment to Afghanistan. The dancers wore camouflage and emerged in a line, drilling steps in uniform in a solemn corps, before breaking out in duets and solos that moved with an intense drive against the lugubrious wail of strings played slowly. Dazzling tours and leaps sent dancers vaulting from the stage in sprays of gleaming sweat as those in the corps maintained a steady, somnambulistic march, tracing out unseen shapes with their hands -- blinders, binoculars, masks. Though the piece was ostensibly literal and political, it seemed also a dance about dance, the most thrillingly virtuosic acts performed by individuals absorbed in a private mission, possessed by an internal rhythm and a willingness, even a desire, to sacrifice every sinew for a momentary, mortal glory.
Brew's Awkward Beauty opened with a belch of fog and the shimmer of colored lamé on a darkened stage. A series of lifts left the women dangling in inverted positions, legs splayed, crotches skyward. The piece then relegated the dancers to a line at the rear of the stage, tumbling like dominoes, doing the wave like exceptionally graceful sports fans, clambering on and stretching legs and arms against the metal supports of the theater wall like the "Big Spender" number in Sweet Charity. A trio of women en pointe let their hair down. Ribs were popped, hands were shaped like lobster claws. By the end, the makeup had smeared, the elastic of the costumes frayed. The authoritative Katherine Wells was lifted like a basket overhead, propeller-spun in a spread-eagle until the blood reddened her face.
Seiwert's The Devil Ties My Tongue brought out individual qualities of the dancers nicely, particularly the long-limbed Sarah Griffin, who seemed composed of so rare a substance that she barely touched the ground in her duet. Annali Rose was partnered by two men, exhibiting pliant strength and clarity amidst their unobtrusive stepping. Though the choreography bent the dancers into a unique sequence of forms, classicism was maintained in the notion of woman as a shape to be contorted, and man as an invisible support who emerges to dance between moments of aiding his partner. The arabesque of Giselle and Paquita was replaced by the repeated balance in attitude en avant, from an image of soaring to that of anticipation. The piece closed with Wells partnered by the stalwart Brandon Freeman, who appeared to obstruct her movement forward with every lift -- an intriguing image that seemed more a beginning than an end.
Amy Seiwert's Imagery presents Sketch 3: Expectations at 8pm July 25-27 and 7pm July 28 at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F. Tickets are $25-30; call 415-863-9834 or visit the website.