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Good Humor
Mark Foehringer Dance Project is gracefully comic.

“Four Seasons”
Mark Foehringer Dance Project/SF
Yerba Buena, San Francisco
August 28, 2002

by Rita Felciano
copyright ©2002 by SF Bay Guardian

When I first saw Mark Foehringer's choreography two years ago (in Rhapsodia, his quasi-murder mystery performed around a dinner table), I thought the humor overly broad and further hindered by a protracted sense of timing. Either my eyes have improved or Foehringer's choreography has, because 2001's The Four Seasons, his most recent lengthy comic excursion, presented last weekend (Aug. 23-25) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, skipped through the treacherous realm of dance comedy with spirit and grace.

For his Mark Foehringer Dance Project, the San Francisco-based, Brazilian-raised choreographer has assembled a group of experienced dancers from all over the Americas, none of them superb, but all of them impressive at working together to realize Foehringer's multifaceted vision of contemporary ballet. For the most part, Foerhringer takes an unadorned view of traditional steps, but he sets enough fresh accents to keep his choreography vital. Despite some glitches and near misses – no doubt more rehearsal and more tech time would have helped – this seven-year-old ensemble presented a welcome evening of convincing new dance.

The program opened with a world premiere, String Quartet, an astute setting of three movements of Prokofiev's Quartet No. 1, performed live by the Conservatory of Music String Quartet. A series of duets and trios, which started out in a lighthearted skip-and-frolic manner, gradually moved into emotionally complex terrain, culminating in something akin to a grand pas de deux for guest artists Bethania Gomes (Dance Theater of Harlem) and Ramon Moreno (Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley) in the third movement. The second movement's turbulent ensemble section opened with a gorgeous Holly Morrow slowly unfolding her limbs from Carlo Sierras's lap. Moreno and Gomes, however, were not ideally paired; this was a relationship still in an exploratory phase.

Two smaller pieces, Nuages (2001), a trio, and The Lark (2002), a duet, completed the first half of the program. In Nuages – performed amid superfluous stage fog and against a video of billowing clouds by Ethan Hoerneman – Morrow and Sierras were joined by Luana Hidalgo. Debussy's score, with its premonitions of Stravinsky, inspired a series of images that were almost Duncan-esque in the way they floated between stillness and motion. The piece glided from gently loping unisons, in which the dancers chased pools of light they never dared step into, to partnerings, in which Sierras alternated between the two women or took both of them on at the same time (carrying one and pulling the other, for instance). Videographer Hoerneman designed a window that opened up during The Lark, in which Moreno and Graciela Acedo were trying to work out a relationship. Choreographically, the piece looked pale, and even though the emotional temperature gradually rose, it never became clear if, or why, one of the two dancers was trying to escape from the other. The Lark was set to a bombastic Russian score, performed live with dramatic flair by 14-year-old Diana Tkachenko.

The evening's highlight was the 40-minute, four-act Seasons. While the idea of using Vivaldi's beloved score for a work on the cyclical nature of life is not exactly original – Helgi Tomasson's 1992 version most immediately comes to mind – and Foehringer's admiration of Jerome Robbins is obvious, Seasons for the most part is a frothy delight. The mininarratives, told entirely through movement, were clear, the costumes (by Courtney Tan) and lighting (by Lisa Pinkham, for the whole program) excellent, and the dancing more than adequate. In the "Spring" section a bee (Scott Stevens) and a butterfly (Michael Howerton) competed for the attention of three gossiping flowers who pranced around in fluttering pastel petal skirts. Stevens returned later in the "Fall" section as a fumbling young lover, reminiscent of La fille malgardée's Alain, and as the lecherous nurse in "Winter." He is a good comedian, and Foehringer used him well. Morrow and Sierras's come-hither courting duet in "Summer," replete with parasol and inner tube duck, was followed by a more formal one by Hidalgo and Michael Doerner. Some of the accompanying vamping and the still poses looked as if they had stepped (or swooned) out of a Varga centerfold.

The slightly disjointed "Fall" featured a marvelous stretching-bending-breaking duet for Sierras and Moreno as two branches buffeted by a storm that had broken up a picnic (but not the budding love affair between Stevens and Lauren Sieffel). "Winter" was the weakest of the four segments: the portrait of life in a nursing home did have moments of hilarity, as "ladies and gentlemen of the golden years" fought over seemingly everything – pillows, a newspaper, a doughnut – but the conciliatory ending struck a false note against the preceding acerbity.

August 28, 2002
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