Oakland Ballet Company evolves and diversifies
Mills College's majestic grove of redwood trees has inspired both poets and painters. It also provided Fenley with ideas for the verticality, restraint, and elegance for Redwood Park. She set it on a quintet to a score by Joan Jeanrenaud, here excellently performed by percussionists Nava Dunkelman and Ann Wray. At first the music's sharp attacks and tonal variations seemed at odds with the tranquil dancing's soft strides and pliant turns spinning off into extended patterns — but as Redwood evolved, you realized that both arose from a calmly spacious sense of time. The piece was designed for five men, but Emily Kerr successfully pinch-hit for an injured one. While it was good to see dancers as different as Vincent Chavez, Flood, Madera, and Roberts attempt this spare choreography, not everyone was equally up to the task.
Turf dancing (taking up room on the floor) developed as way of claiming urban territory, and as a tribute to lives lost on Oakland's streets. Lustig's Turfland was a well-intentioned but unconvincing attempt to bring two of its practitioners to the concert stage, and have his ballet dancers in turn follow them out into the street.
Much of the piece looked improvised and none of the dancers — with the exception of Chavez, who fluidly straddled both worlds — seemed at ease. It takes more than performing on the tip of your toes, whether in blocked shoes or sneakers, to find a common language. These dancers were about as far apart as the washed-out visuals of the stage and the graffiti-inspired, scintillatingly beautiful backdrops by Samuel Renaissance. *