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Finding Community

Community was a common theme in the Summer Sampler presented by ODC/Dance in July, with premieres by Dexandro Montalvo and Sonya Delwaide, along with recent work of company founders Brenda Way and Kimi Okada. Because all four works were delivered with the athletic precision of the ODC company dancers, the otherwise unique perspectives looked like a matched set. It was a little like a fashion show where one stunning model wears all the clothes.


ODC/Dance Summer Sampler, choreography by Sonya Delwaide, Dexandro Montalvo, Kimi Okada, and Brenda Way


ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA, July 21, 2023


Karen Hildebrand

Rachel Furst and Jaime Garcia Castilla in “May’s Letters”  by Kimi Okada and Brenda Way. Photograph by Lydia Daniller

Montalvo, a dance educator who serves as assistant director and rehearsal master for ODC’s pre-professional teen company, opened the evening with “Interconnected,” for six dancers who intertwine gorgeously to insistent piano strains of Cliff Martinez. Soloist Colton Wall stands out with a set of supple-spined gymnastic maneuvers. A duet with Jenna Marie and Christian Squires is also lovely—she spins about on a vertical axis as he, on the floor, rolls away from her. 

Delwaide’s “C’est frette!” imported a frigid winter from her native Quebec to an especially bright SF summer night, with shivering speed skaters who glide, each with a hand shoved into a down vest pocket. Charming and funny, it was a treat to have a concrete context on which to hang the company’s otherwise abstract movement language.

Allie Papazian, Colton Wall and Jenna Marie in “C’est frette!” by Sonya Delwaide. Photograph by Lydia Daniller

The heart of the evening was a dance theater work, “May’s Letters” (2022), by Okada and Way, with set and costumes by Marc Ribaud and Kyo Yohena, respectively. Okada is director of the ODC School, and the titular letters are those her mother wrote as a newlywed detained in a Japanese American internment camp during WWII. The full company of eleven dancers depict families arriving at a train station with suitcases, the women carefully dressed in frocks and gloves, men in trousers with suspenders. Allowed only one bag each for everything they will need to set up housekeeping, they have no idea how long they will be detained. 

ODC/Dance in “May’s Letters” by Kimi Okada and Brenda Way. Photograph by Lydia Daniller

Ribaud’s set features planks of wood branded with lines of text from May Okada’s letters. They serve as, first, the train platform, then various tables, benches and walkways. The performers, constantly in motion, rearrange the planks and animate the activities described in the letters. May types her letters at a small typewriter stand amidst the comings and goings while we hear her lines in voiceover. Surprisingly chipper, the day-in-the-life nature of the letters could be that of a summer camper reporting home. They detail the lack of privacy and how the families adapt to concentration camp conditions—and are surprisingly devoid of anger. We are left to imagine outrage on their behalf. The suitcases and their contents are a centerpiece prop: a child pulls out colorful items of clothing to toss into the air; there is laundry hung out to dry; bedspreads serve as partitions between family groups. The muted colors of Yohena’s wardrobe mix with wood tones to evoke the sepia of old photographs such as those hung as banners from the theater rigging. Veteran company member Brandon “Private” Freeman (who performs in three of the four sampler works) plays the part of community elder in cardigan, slouchy hat and glasses. Beautifully rendered, for me the work ended too soon. I wondered if there could be more pure dance interludes that might elaborate on the original material. While certainly I can respect the artistic choice to honor the personal family experience, there seems more to explore between the lines. 

Allie Papazian (leaping) with, from left, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Jaime Garcia Castilla and Brandon Private Freeman in “Collision, Collapse and a Coda.” Photograph by Robbie Sweeny

To close the evening, Way, ODC’s artistic director, showcased her company at its spectacular animal best. The program notes describe her distinctly two-parted “Collision, Collapse and a Coda” (2023) as the “daily barrage of disturbing news stories” contrasted with “solace we find in the care of intimacy.” First the dancers cower and swoop while costumed in unbuttoned white shirts that almost snarl as they flap about to the driving rhythm. Then midway, the music shifts and, pair by pair, the dancers return in filmy pants and skirts for a series of sinuous pas de deux—a most arresting duo is between two men. The piece presents a clear before and after, with no apparent reason for the leap from violence to solace. But, oh the dancing! When a woman suddenly flings herself across the stage into the midst of an unsuspecting group, I could swear she must have the ability to fly. 

Karen Hildebrand

Karen Hildebrand is former editorial director for Dance Magazine and served as editor in chief for Dance Teacher for a decade. An advocate for dance education, she was honored with the Dance Teacher Award in 2020. She follows in the tradition of dance writers who are also poets (Edwin Denby, Jack Anderson), with poetry published in many literary journals and in her book, Crossing Pleasure Avenue (Indolent Books). She holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Originally from Colorado, she lives in Brooklyn.


Susan Parjer

Excellent review! I saw the production and this describes it perfectly. Thank you!


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