September 7,8, 2018
ODC Theater San Francisco
Dancing Dreaming Isadora
Isadora Duncan, the San Francisco early 20th century dancer, considered the ‘mother’ of American modern dance, seems to attract more and more attention. Perhaps it is these times of feminist information and memory that has brought film, symposia, novels, and most recently new performances to honor the legacy of this fabulous woman.
Mary Sano is a native of Japan who became a protege of Mignon Garland in San Francisco in 1979. Garland was one of several students, performers and teachers who were inspired by Duncan’s dancing and her teaching, as well as the teaching of her sister, Elizabeth Duncan. Each gave a special unique vision of what Duncan dance is.
In this program, Sano and her company recreate several early dances attributed to Duncan. Set to Chopin mazurkas, waltzes and etudes, the company performs the charming skips, leaps, runs and waltz step that evoke ‘natural’ movement. The pieces are handsomely done in the short tunics that recall Duncan’s affinity to the Greeks.
More dramatic and more contemporary are the dramatic works. The “Funeral March” (Sonata No.2 Op.35, no 3) danced by guest Adrienne Ramm is a dance of mourning, supposedly evoked by the death of Duncan’s children. First in a purple toga and then in black, Ramm used powerful arm and torso gestures to transmit deep grief. Similarly, Sano, in red, danced the “Revolutionary Etude” (Scriabin, Etude Op.8, no.1).
Duncan had been in Russia at revolutionary times. Strong fists and gestures of protest while on her knees, gave a different dimension to the image of the Duncan dance. Sano also danced “Mother” (Scriabin, Etude Op.2, no 1), again evoking the grieving Duncan. Erica Tokaji, was the very accomplished musician for the works cited above.
(writer’s note: I danced the “Revolutionary Etude many years ago. That version required the dancer to keep her hands bound behind her back, struggling with twisted torso movements, until the hands were freed. Choreographic reconstruction is varied.
The second half of the program was of another dimension. Sano, her son Tony, and Paul Heller have made a film and a dance/theater production of “Ship of Dreams: Kanrin Maru” a story depicting Japan’s first cross-Pacific endeavor. The dancers are shown on screen and off (alas, not a great projection), depicting the “Grace and Fury of the storm” and “Perseverance.” Although the intention is very dramatic, the transition from film to stage is not aways successful.
The evening ended with “Letters from Isadora” during which the dancers spoke excepts from Duncan’s “The Art of the Dance.” At the end, four children from Sano’s classes joined the group. Sano is most sincere in her tributes and dedication, but for this reviewer, dancers who move and speak at the same time often do not project. A reader/narrator might be more effective. One child did a spontaneous cartwheel as she left the stage. Delightful!
Perhaps it is time for contemporary dancers to create new dances to honor Isadora. She probably would find much offer in these modern times,
Dancers of the company are: Christina Braun; Isabel Dow; Monique Goldwater, Tamoko Ide; Ukiko Nakazato; Amber Sky; and guest artist Adrienne Ramm.
Musicians for Part 2. Mutsuko Dohi (Piano); Hiroko Mizuno (Piano); Tony Sano Chapman) (Piano); Shoko Hikage (Koto); Gabriela Hofmeyer (Violin); Diana Rowan (Harp); and Jorge Maresch (Cello). Bravo to all!
Joanna G. Harris