Change Is Afoot For Dance Theater of San Francisco Under New Director

With a name like Dance Theater of San Francisco, it’s hard not to root for this home-grown contemporary dance company. In the three years since their inception, the troupe has done an amiable job at representing the city’s dance scene in a considerate manner. They’ve always been good, but can they really make San Francisco proud?

Now in its third season, Dance Theater of San Francisco turns everything on its head. The 18-member company was honed down to a polished group of nine. The curated choreographers are decidedly more edgy. The biggest change of all: The decision to hire local dancer and choreographer, Dexandro “D” Montalvo as Artistic Director.

[jump] “I think that we just needed to make the direction of the company a little bit clearer,” Montalvo said in an interview before the 2015 program this past weekend at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater. “Sometimes if you’re trying to do everything, you end up not doing anything.”

This might sound odd coming from a man who, before retiring from dance to devote his full attention to DTSF, danced every style from hip-hop to modern, and has been employed by an impressively wide-range of companies around the city. With that sort of resume, you might think that his direction could get a little muddy. But if you’ve seen any of his past work — particularly last season’s Ocean, an energetic piece for 14 dancers set to music by Olafur Arnalds and Henning Baer — you’ll know that experience under his belt has done nothing more than create a voice that is very much his own.

“I’m really interested in the application of technique, but not just having sterile technique as choreography,” says Montalvo of the way in which he creates movement. “Everyone that I hired is really intelligent and they’re making very smart decisions about interpreting what I’m asking for.”

A smart company is important, especially when the bulk of show is set on the dancers — like it was over the weekend. Of the four sections, the only piece not created on the company was “Toward September,” an energetic selection created by favorite local choreographer Robert Moses. Created in 2009 to music by Robert Moses and Aleta Hayes, it was danced beautifully, proving that if an idea is a good one, it can be great to see it again.

The most confusing portion of the evening was “Scene 6,” a short duet created for Sharon Kung and Cooper Neely by the normally on-point Amy Seiwert. Set to a characterless score by Michael Galasso, the piece was … fine. The choreography was fine. The execution was fine. The spring-like jumpsuits were perplexingly in the wrong season, but ultimately, begrudgingly, fine. It seems as if it was Siewert's goal was not to offend the audience. But when choreographers don’t push their dancers or create interesting work for an audience, isn’t that the most offensive thing they could do?

That hiccup aside, the real treats of the evening were the pieces Montalvo constructs for his dancers. After all, he spent the previous season with the company as Resident Choreographer — and his time with the company certainly shows. He’s able to play into the strengths of each of his dancers (particularly with the articulate Cooper Neely and the dynamic Mia Chong, who was blessed with a seemingly impossible amount of flexibility, and the good sense to control it).

The first of two creations by Montalvo, “Navigating Coexistence,” a quartet set to music by Shigeru Umebayashi and Caleb Burhans, featured a few particularly lovely moments from a quietly confident, and distinctly balletic Jessica Wagner. His second, a piece for the whole company entitled “Pent,” was set to a prickly score by electronic musician, Perc. The dancers (clad in sleek costumes by Christopher Dunn) do indeed seem intelligent. And so does Montalvo, who somehow manages to bring equal parts quirky theatricality and thoughtful structure. In all of its athletic, exaggerated, and technical glory, “Pent” shows exactly what Montalvo excels at: Making movement that is exciting. This is the kind of dance that would make San Francisco proud.

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