Work of depth and daring
In the rehearsal room at ODC Commons, Janice Garrett is urging her dancers to “manipulate the energy.” She lunges, stretching her long elegant limbs out in a quick movement, eloquently demonstrating to her dancers how to infuse movement with power and lyricism.
Dance has to do with the ability to focus and control energy precisely. In a fraction of a second Garrett has revealed the essence of dance, the element that is capable of thrilling an audience and that gives dance its aura of transcendent grace.
The dancers are rehearsing for the latest Garrett + Moulton Productions event, Speak, Angels, which world premieres at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater July 28–31.
Janice Garrett began collaborating with Charles Moulton in 2008, and they have produced a number of productions since, building a company of six dancers and supplementing them with larger choruses and musical performers. Both choreographers had long independent careers. Garrett began her career as a dancer for Dan Waggoner and Dancers, and then danced and choreographed internationally. Honored as one of Dance Magazine’s top “25 to Watch” in 2004, she has gone on to collect a slew of commissions and awards.
Charles Moulton began in sports but moved to dance in his late teens, joining the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1973-76. He has choreographed for Joffrey, Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project, and is the winner of multiple awards and grants, including a Dorothy Chandler Arts Achievement Award, a Guggenheim and an NEA grant.
In 2010 the couple won the Isadora Duncan Dance Award for “Best Company Performance” for their collaboration on The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories. They garnered three Izzie nominations for The Experience of Flight in Dreams in 2011.
Like Garret and Moulton’s previous theatrical dance works, Speak, Angels is a large and ambitious project. With six company dancers, or soloists, 18 corps dancers, seven instrumentalists and five singers. That’s a lot of bodies to move around a stage and proscenium.
Garrett describes the concept of Speak, Angels as representing “the forces of providence that influence our lives.” She confirms that this “sense of spiritual presences or forces of nature” comes from her own experience of life. She continues, “It’s like the voice that tells you turn right at the next corner and when you do you run into someone you haven’t seen in 20 years.” Her story suggests a perception of life that runs deep below the hustle and bustle of the everyday; a perception that sees energies and events as weaving an underlying and supporting architecture to existence.
Moulton designates the performance’s 18-member corps as a “movement choir” and explains that their movement “represents those energies”, which are “like the wind, angelic processes, voice, or breath that comes into its world.”
The work’s choreographic structure is complex, exploring different configurations between the movement choir and the soloists. In one of the sections I saw, the movement choir was tightly packed into lines of three placed at different levels to each other. Three dancers in front were sitting on boxes, three dancers stood behind them, and behind them three dancers stood on boxes. At times they moved synchronously, at times they offered counterpoint to each other’s movements, and those movements were mostly limited to their arms and torsos. The soloists danced in front and in between the groups of nine. During a soulful duet by company members Vivian Aragon and Nol Simonse, the movement choir behind them swayed and waved, resembling seaweed in tidal currents.
In another section the chorus stood in half circles, repeating distinct arm gestures but breathing out short explosive vocalized sounds. Their voices provided the music, and were born out of the dancer’s intricate moves.
Live music is a must for Garrett and Moulton. The choreographers assemble some 75-100 pieces that they feel they want to work with and then winnow them down. The music is assembled and often composed by Jonathan Russell, the virtuosic clarinetist and composer who co-founded the Switchboard Music Festival in San Francisco and is a member of the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk.
In this performance contralto Karen Clark with lead a quartet of female singers. Among the solos, a company dancer performs to one of Mahler’s Ruckert lieder, a series about love and death, set in moments of the natural world. Other composers include Marc Mellits and Zoltán Kodály. Interestingly, Garrett and Moulton don’t always choreograph to music. They also work out moments of choreography then find music to which it can be danced.
Lively, innovative and imaginative, Garrett and Moulton are choreographers whose work speaks large themes in generous ways and strives to give voice to our greater humanity.
— Jaime Robles
For information and tickets, visit https://ybca.org/whats-on/speak-angels or http://garrettmoulton.org.
Photo: Ryan Wang and Vivian Aragon in the world premiere of Garrett + Moulton Productions’ Speak, Angels at YBCA Theater in San Francisco. Photo by RJ Muna.