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Dear Diary

When the inclination is to create, as the award-winning choreographer Amy Seiwert says, “the most brilliant thing that anyone’s ever seen,” what happens when you’re given permission to be less than perfect? This is one question the Michael Smuin protégée who went on to direct the Sacramento Ballet for two seasons is asking with her innovative series, Sketch. For the project’s twelfth iteration, Seiwert invited Natasha Adorlee, formerly of ODC/Dance and Robert Moses’ Kin; and rising star, Joshua L. Peugh, founder of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, to join her with a group of eight stellar dance artists to create new works that explore themes of nostalgia while participating in a creative feedback process. Showing the work to a public audience is part of the deal. The resulting three world premieres were on display as “Sketch 12: Dear Diary,” complete with sometimes raw edges, at San Francisco’s Cowell Theater.

Performance

Amy Seiwert Imagery present Sketch 12: Dear Diary

Place

Cowell Theater, San Francisco, CA, July 15, 2022

Words

Karen Hildebrand

Amy Seiwert Imagery in “Tides” by Amy Seiwert. Photograph by David DeSilva

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Seiwert’s “Tides” was the most polished work of the evening. A purely abstract ballet, it moved with the constancy of oceanic forces suggested by its title. The dancers, in gender neutral aquamarine shorts and tanks, undulated with wavelike fluidity. They clustered together, braiding their limbs, to form an amorphous creature that moved as one entity. At times the group lifted a woman and carried her overhead in a gesture of support and caring. At other times, the cluster became more of a container from which a lone dancer seemed to climb out of. The grouping variously dispersed into solos, duets and trios. At one point, it seemed to float from one side of the stage to the other behind a downstage trio, giving the impression of a sailing vessel in the background. A recurring hand gesture mimicked the rippling motion of waves. Even the live seagulls outside the theater got involved. We could hear them cawing as the Cowell is perched at the end of a pier over the San Francisco Bay.

The dancers, an a-list of performers from Sacramento Ballet, Smuin Ballet, ODC/Dance, Ballet Hispanico, and Company C that comprise Seiwert’s pick-up company, Imagery, deftly inhabited the bendy, stretchy, twisty action of “Tides.” Seiwert has a lovely way of translating the classical ballet port de bras into angular geometric shapes; her lifts unfurl like sensual tendrils; and spurts of exquisite pointe work were pure pleasure. For a duet midway through, she made good use of a quickening momentum in music by Ezio Bosso. The movement phrases themselves didn’t change, but the pacing intensified to match the music for a very welcome change in dynamic. Near the end, another striking moment: one woman tilted sideways to fall into the wing as another was tossed out to be caught in the arms of a group of men onstage. It felt a little random—fresh and surprising, I wanted to see it again.

Natasha Adorlee's “Liminal Space.” Photograph by David DeSilva

In “Liminal Space,” Adorlee used many of the same compositional elements (clusters of dancers that dissolve into duets and trios) and movement vocabulary (flexible spine, the lifts and partnering) seen in Seiwert’s work. But “Liminal Space” stood out with its narrative theme and a compelling mix of music, sound, and text. Adorlee alternated a Vivaldi choral piece with Taiko drumming and passages of text to create strikingly different moods. The drumming sections inspired the jazzy syncopation of latin social dance—sensual hip swirls and rocking pelvic action. Was there also a hint of martial arts that gave the dancers a more angular edge? And maybe an attempt at popping and locking that wasn’t as crisp as it could have been.

What has stayed with me are the three sections of text written by Adorlee herself and delivered with voice-over as if a journal entry. Poetic and haunting, it captured an image of the narrator’s long lost father—his face lit in such a way that one eye is obscured. The dancers carried around a floor lamp with cord trailing and a stark lit bulb. At one point they lined up on the diagonal and passed a man’s blazer from shoulder to shoulder until it arrived to the father character, who slipped into it. When the text section returned for a third time, the words were partially obscured by music and as we strained to hear, we understood the narrator’s grief was about losing the clarity of her father’s memory.

Joshua L. Peugh's “Kink” featuring Anthony Cannerella. Photograph by David DeSilva

Peugh’s “Kink” ended the evening on an upbeat note. Cowboy themed, the dancers wore fringed western shirts and jeans, and with thumb-hooked-through-belt-loop swagger, delivered a campy riff that reminded me of Agnes DeMille’s “Rodeo.” Peugh depicted gay romance in a series of six snapshots to country western songs by Orville Peck. “Kink” opened on a barroom dance floor with three couples swaying to a slow dance. A girl tapped a shoulder to cut in on one of the couples; the excluded girl languidly glided over to cut in on another couple. No-one seemed to mind the shifting partners. Eventually, the switching landed two men to sway together.

As the scene progressed, things began to get out of hand: a drunken character drank out of a girl’s red cowboy boot, another girl lay prone with her arms lassoed about a man’s ankle, a man strummed another’s thigh like a guitar, one guy howled like a coyote. It had the feel of a dream. Sometimes the song lyrics were a bit closely hewn. As we heard “roses, when falling for you,” for instance, three girls promenaded onstage, each carrying a single rose which became a cluster clenched between a guy’s teeth. An element that seemed under-developed was Peugh’s play on classical ballet technique—a silly moment when two men bounced in a ragged sequence of entrechats didn’t quite click. Overall, “Kink” was playful and sly and of all the work on display in Sketch 12, may hold the most potential for further refinement. It’s rare to have time and support for the kind of risk-taking Seiwert has championed with the Sketch series—and a privilege to witness.


*An earlier version of this article misstated that Amy Seiwert was director of Sacramento Ballet for ten seasons, instead of two.

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.

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