Clairobscur Dance Company Presents Broad Choreographic Interests

by guest writer Jessica Kondrath

Laurie Sefton’s Clairobscur Dance Company presented Memory Lapse, a performance consisting of three pieces; Werk Work, Obviam Somes, and Memory Lapse, at Diavolo Performance Space April 24th and 25th, 2015. With pieces created between the years of 2011 to present, one you can observe the development and broad interests of Sefton’s choreography.

Werk Work was originally created as a site-specific performance, taking place in a marble lobby space in San Francisco and transformed here for the stage. I felt that the use of pathways and levels that may have existed in the original location was clearly seen in this restaging. This piece is filled with kinetic energy and is held together with a frenetic underlying structure. The dancers, while performing with high energy and a sense of directional urgency, offer the viewer the sensation of a bustling city flowing past them. Later in the work, the movers break down and find themselves sucked into their various electronic devices struggling to connect with each other in a natural way, as Sefton makes commentary on our society’s willingness to let go of genuine human interaction to make space for an electronically generated version of the same. The dancers absorb the rhythm of the jazz infused score by Acme Rocket Quartet, which does an excellent job reinforcing the feeling of constant motion and hurried energy.

Obviam Somes, second in the program order, is a work about surgical procedures and the invasion that occurs therein. With music from various artists and a film by Erik Lohr, the dancers Jacqueline Hinton, Alyson Mattoon, Seda Aybay, Carolyn Pampalone, and Christian Beasley are unveiled, dressed in Clarie Townsend’s pastel, short patient hospital gowns that were constructed from ballet skirt material and knee high nude socks. These costumes aimed to bring an institutional hospital look to the characters encountered in the dance. As various medical procedures transpire during Lohr’s film, the dancers and music altered their interaction with each other and the space.   The work unfolds, with a collection of solos and small group sections that unify in the last two sections. Sefton gave the audience ways to tie together each vignette though moments of repeated gestures or dancer interactions, often the mime of performing a surgery on a fellow dancer. While these gestures assisted the viewer in understanding the ideas behind the work, the power garnered from the initial dancer interaction and movement was lost due to the overall length of the piece and multiple repetitions of signifying motifs. Seda Aybay’s solo drew attention, as she threw herself across the floor and attempted to enact surgery on herself. This moment in the work was both successful due to Aybay’s powerful and demanding performance, but also due to its brevity and craftsmanship; what needed to be said was done so with clarity and precise action by both dancer and choreographer. I do question the use of ballet dance vocabulary, that seemed to arise from nowhere and stood out against Sefton’s quirky gestural movements, floor work, and penchant for the bizarre in motion, which in this piece works very much to support her choreographic intent. Another particularly strong aspect of the work came in the duet between Alyson Mattoon and Christian Beasley. The clarity and exacting nature in which Mattoon and Beasley executed Sefton’s choreography consisting of surgical precision and uncomfortable oddity was a pleasure to view. Lohr’s film added a captivating visual element of the unusual and often unseen, providing the viewer with a feeling of discomfort and the knowledge that these surgical procedures are invading and transpiring inside our bodies, however much we may not understand the details occurring within.

Lastly, Sefton’s most recent work Memory Lapse is performed by Annalee Traylor, Megan Pulfer, Damien Diaz, and Genevieve Zander with an original score composed by Bryan Curt Kostors, and costumes executed by Ruth Fentroy. This work attempts to unfurl the layers of the psyche of a woman who is losing her love to Alzheimer’s. Opening the piece we see Zander, costumed in a beautiful black lace dress, accompanied by Traylor and Pulfer dressed in simple leggings and tunics, stand quietly as she gestures around her neck, as if searching for something that once was. She moves with deft precision and subtly as she traverses the space searching. As Traylor and Pulfer follow her movements, it becomes apparent that Pulfer stands in as her subconscious, and Traylor her trailing lost memories. Suddenly, Diaz appears, walking downstage in cream-colored sweats, clearly lost in the abyss of his mind. Zander attempts to tear at him, hoping to recover her love and bring his awareness back. As she moves herself about him, holding his arms around her in embrace after embrace, Diaz does an expert job of partnering her with ease while remaining committed to his acting. For a moment, we see Diaz emerge from the depths and return to her as the man she knows, but the moment is brief and he slips away again. As expertly as Sefton’s cast performs her work, the narrative did edge toward cliché, but stayed grounded by the dancers’ ability to navigate this sensitive topic in their performance.

In a commentary on the printed program, which utilized QR-Codes to talk about each work, I frequently overhead the audience members question if, how, and why they should use their phones to download an app, and read about the concert instead of simply opening a program to find the information they sought. While I appreciate Sefton’s idea to integrate smart phone technology into the program notes, I found that it was a turn off for many in attendance. It pushed away those less adept to new technology and those without a smart phone (they still exist!), and brought into focus the frequent request for live audiences to turn off their phones.

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