This year choreographer Amy Seiwert switched gears for her Sketch5/Stirrings. Instead of asking choreographers to create pieces on her dancers, she invited fellow Bay Area dance maker KT Nelson to co-create one for her company. Nelson, a long-time contemporary dance choreographer with ODC Dance, is experienced in collaboration. Seiwert, on the other hand, is a novice.
The experiment of co-creating “Starting at the End” comes close to being successful. What's missing is a common thread that ties individual moments into a cohesive whole. Yet the richness of the material holds the eye captive, as long lines and precarious balances explode into quixotic kicks, drops and delicate finger gestures.
Seiwert and Nelson make no attempt to fuse their two approaches to dance together. One minute, a dancer performs a highly formal balletic extension; the next, the same performer rolls on the floor like a ball that's been kicked.
When Brandon Freeman tackles James Gilmer at top speed, you might expect conflict. Yet the dancers' bodies accommodate each other like two very different trees growing into one.
Much of the credit for “Starting at the End” goes to the superb dancers who integrate the movement material so confidently into their bodies. Rachel Furst mesmerizes as much with her delicate yet strong pliancy as she does with her ability to change speed and direction with the velocity of a scared rabbit. Liang Fu courteously partners a pliant Annali Rose while holding his own in a competitive race with two male colleagues.
The program also includes Seiwert’s “Traveling Alone,” set on Colorado Ballet in 2012, as well as her reworked “Back to,” created for Cincinnati Ballet as “Yesterday, Tomorrow,” in 2013.
Fast-paced and edgy, “Traveling Alone” is a wistful ballad about not fitting in. Guest artist Dana Benton, petite and razor-sharp in her attacks, is the lone traveler who marches self-confidently to center stage, whips her turns and shoots her arms straight at us. That’s one self-absorbed woman, you think.
Dressed in elegant red, Benton encounters a world where every one wears white. All she can do is observe and try to fit in. She encounters a trio of bird-like women and forcefully inserts herself into intimate pas de deux. Partnering with individual men leads nowhere. A mirroring duet across space peters out.
A lovely touch is Seiwert's bow to the grand 19th century ballet manner. Gilmer and Fu partner the regal Sarah Griffin trophy style. They manipulate her limbs, spin, lift and dive her precariously. But this grand ballerina looks about as lonely as Benton, who seems destined to remain without a partner.
At last, Freeman engages her with his strong arms and assertive lifts. But is that the end of this outsider’s journey? Benton’s face remains a question mark.
“Back to” is a curiously folksy piece set to some tinny sounding bluegrass music by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. It may have some ancestry in the hoedown and the frolicking and mishaps that one encounters on a hot Saturday in the local grange hall. A bench serves as a common meeting place.
There is something stiff in the way these young people encounter each other. They all look as if they are realizing steps that they or their ancestors have done hundreds of times before. The dancing is bland and dutiful despite the considerable energy invested in it.
A central duet for Fu and Rose in "Back to" goes on as if in a loop. After a while, it becomes almost painful to watch. The only person with any sense of individuality is Freeman who plops himself where he likes and slides through the piece with considerable jest.
Despite some moments of levity, such as a mock death, "Back to" is an odd piece about a community in which people are held together more by force of habit than by choice. After a while the piece begins to drag. Seiwert is apparently still tweaking it. Perhaps she can kick some more life into it.